Monday, August 13, 2007

Guess what?

My mom's coming home tomorrow...and I still haven't cleaned my room.

However, I have seen Rush Hour 3, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (again). Should I feel ashamed of movie-hopping or vindicated for thwarting Cinemark's exhorbitant ticket prices?

Hilarious: Harry Potter and the COSATHSOWAW

Question: What is fmk?

Answer: Google it - really. The first thing that comes up is a Wikipedia article entitled Fuck, Marry, Kill - and that's exactly what it is! Get a random group of 3 people and you're forced to choose which to fuck, marry, and kill.

Now, if you're super bored, you can read my senior paper. It's not anything awesome, so I would suggest fourfour( if you want to laugh at Tyra Banks & Airheads) or HP fanfic instead, but not Night Zephyr - Points of No Return. I just finished it last night. It was horribly excruciating, but I couldn't make myself stop. Why do I do these things to myself?

(I named this something so awful and cheesy I'm leaving out the title.)

In the turbulent social zeitgeist of the twentieth century, many writers attempted to define ethics or clarify the delineation between good and evil amidst the pervasive moral confusion and prevailing psychological uncertainty. Using organic backdrops, they isolated humans in order to explore the nature of the mind without the constant influence of society. They found a primordial attraction to atrocity, or a sort of beast within the spirit, that becomes unleashed when faced with the unknown. Journeys into the wilderness often result in confrontations with the primitive fascination with darkness inherent in the human psyche, which must be willingly met but ultimately controlled.

Joseph Conrad explores this idea in Heart of Darkness, venturing to the Congo in a climate of ambiguity and doubt, where images of savagery and the horrifying vision of reality that Kurtz relays force protagonist Marlow to reevaluate his own values. Likewise, Barbara Kingsolver investigates the wickedness that surfaces in the character of pious Reverend Nathan Price as seen through the keen eyes of his family in The Poisonwood Bible. William Golding’s delving into the complexity of the subconscious is especially provocative in Lord of the Flies, as the individuals he takes into the jungle are young British boys who should be capable of “civilization” but quickly turn towards barbaric bloodlust and cruelty. All of these characters are drawn inexplicably into worlds of violence, hypocrisy, and death. Some embrace or succumb to the atavistic appeal of darkness, while others attempt to suppress or sublimate the repulsive attraction.

The innate “fascination of the abomination” (Conrad 37) is undoubtedly embedded into the human consciousness: taboo is exciting and violation of rules, sadistically interesting. If not satisfied personally or vicariously, these deep-seated, often repressed or veiled yearnings, can lead to terrible consequences. Nathan Price’s desire for spiritual security, augmented by his insecurity arising from his survival in the war where his platoon died, starts out harmlessly enough. He, like the colonialists, manages to delude himself into believing that his task of converting all the people of Kilanga is purely altruistic, but an irrational obstinacy turns his drive into a destructive force. Already controlling and unyielding, Nathan becomes even more stubborn in the face of failure, attempting to bend the will of the village to his personal control. His family suffers for it, enduring his physical abuse as well as suspicion and isolation from a majority of the villagers. His method of dealing with his inability only exacerbates the problem: he fanatically refuses to accept it, fighting blindly but furiously against what he believes is wickedness in the villagers, even after his wife and daughters finally take the drastic action catalyzed by Ruth May’s death and leave him. The reader sees his desperate battle with this purported evil through the eyes of his family and never through his, just as any understanding of Kurtz comes not from a direct insight into his mind but is filtered through Marlow’s perspective. DeMarr points out the fact that Marlow is away from Kurtz during his transformation, and “so too the women are separated from Nathan during the time of his greatest change by Africa and are finally left with a mystery” (par. 18). Once his tenuous connection, the presence of his family, to his former life is severed, Nathan “penetrates deeper into the jungle, apparently sinking into madness, as he journeys farther and farther into his own ‘heart of darkness’” (par. 24). Like Conrad, Kingsolver portrays Africa as “a strong and ambiguous force,” simultaneously being exploited by colonial powers and “corrupt[ing] the agents of those powers” (par. 11). One such agent, of course, is Conrad’s enigmatic Kurtz. In the absolute freedom of the wilderness, Kurtz takes advantage of the natives without restraint, succumbing to the darkness within him. Almost paradoxically, this complete liberty forces Kurtz to recognize his kinship with the savages, spurring him to “gratify his primitive lusts to their absolute full” (Ridley par. 3). Without the external dicta of society, he cannot resist the temptations of darkness, instead surrendering to them wholly. Kurtz’s fall is triumphant in a way: he rejects the European façade of concern for the natives in favor of the dismal truth: that the imperialists are in Africa simply for selfish gain and profit. However, because he is hollow and has not even a fabricated ideal to support himself, this solipsism consumes him entirely. After entering the literal “heart of darkness,” the wild African tangles, he cannot help but discover that the latent darkness “lodged deep within him...[will] erupt due to intimate contact with the lawless wilderness” (Brown par. 12). Similarly in Lord of the Flies, Simon finds that the beast which frightens the boys is actually within each of them. The fly-ridden sow’s head explicitly says, “I’m part of you” (Golding 143), echoing Simon’s tentative suggestion to the others that “maybe it’s only us” (89). However, the other boys cannot accept Simon’s revelation, and when he tells the other boys that the beast is human, they murder him. Like the prisoners of Plato’s cave, they are trapped by their self-imposed mental limitations and “fear the bearer of the truth” (Hynes par. 24). Nevertheless, the beast within surfaces as more and more boys leave Ralph’s camp of civilization for Jack’s society of fear and violence, where the fascination of abomination goes unacknowledged but satisfied.

The collective fates of the characters point towards an uncertain path of treating this fascination. After Nathan’s family leaves, he falls deeper into the clutches of the Congo, ultimately dying in a “boss tower” with the reputation of being a “witch doctor” (Kingsolver 582). The boss tower is a fitting place of death for Nathan, who tried his best to subjugate others to his will. There, “the Belgian foreman would stand watching all the coffee pickers so he could single out which ones to whip at the end of the day” (583), just as Nathan closely monitors his family and Kilanga for any action he could deem heretic or undemocratic. The twice-removed reader only learns of Nathan through the shadowy rumors of the forest, passed along by his family, adding to a mystical sense of his dark destiny. This insulation can also be seen in the telling of Kurtz’s death: the unnamed frame narrator only relates what Marlow passes on, leaving Kurtz still a mystery. What the reader can grasp, though, is that Kurtz cannot fight his fascination with abomination. Too much freedom brings him to realize the ruthlessness and cruelty of which he was capable, and this knowledge consumed him in the end. His famous final words, “The horror, the horror!” perfectly describe the monster which overtakes Nathan, himself, and many of the deserted island boys (Conrad 111). However, the fates of the latter are different. The boys who die, Piggy and Simon, generally represent the intelligent, introspective facet of the human mind, whereas the abomination does not fully take over the boys who represent disorder, Jack’s crew. However, this ending is somewhat ambiguous as the appearance of the naval officer is clearly a deus ex machina, and if he hadn’t shown up, Jack would have killed Ralph. Chaos would have triumphed over society in their tropical microcosm, and sooner or later, the marooned boys would have turned on each other, leaving Jack dead or alone in the end.

In the novel, the victimized boys represent the annihilation of others by those who fall into darkness. An alternate, optimistic scenario that could have happened on the island would have the boys continuing to follow Ralph, managing to maintain their human integrity and fighting against the forces of anarchy, but based on the natural inclinations displayed, the chances of that happening are inconsiderable. Of course, if the situation had changed (e.g. if the boys thought they were being watched by adults, if girls had been on the island with them), perhaps added inhibitions would have prevented the savagery perpetrated by Jack’s degenerate camp. Additionally, if they were older, implying more societal influence and further removal from basic instincts, they might have better seen the necessity of Piggy’s intellect. As it is, Piggy’s hard refusal to meet the darkness in any way leaves little room for compromise and therefore little room for him in Jack’s group. This rationalist in him “looks for logical cause and effect and [is] unwilling to recognize the inherent evil in human nature” (“Lord” par. 5). His unfortunate, prescient nickname makes dehumanizing him easier for the boys who treat him as prey, much like the sow they murdered earlier. Simon’s moral position is a little more ambivalent, but he also stays inherently good throughout the novel. However, he takes steps to understand the darkness, often taking the initiative to venture on his own in search of the beast. The darkness destroys him too, but this time it is not the darkness growing within him. On the contrary, it is the darkness externalized by the other boys and intensified by the wilderness, showing that the impulse toward savagery is stronger than the impulse toward civilization. Their externalized evil takes a physical form in the sow, and when they kill her, the boys “enjoy…a temporary cessation of fear” (Dick par. 7), for in the adrenaline rush of the hunt, they do not realize that they can never kill the true beast. After they kill the sow, they mount her head, “the apotheosis of evil” (par. 6), on a stake and offer it to the beast. Clearly, the boys in some way believe that “the sow is both the beast…as well as an offering to the beast” (par. 4). When Simon visits this totem, it is swarming with flies, symbolic of filth and darkness, reminiscent of the “continuous shower of small flies stream[ing] upon the lamp…so beastly, beastly dark” (Conrad 112) when Kurtz dies. Golding characterizes it as “a vast mouth… blackness within, a blackness that spread” (144). By confronting this evil face to face, Simon achieves “the embodiment of moral understanding” (Hynes par. 20), even though he ends up “inside the mouth” (Golding 144). As he is swallowed by the Lord of the Flies, the darkness consumes him, but his redemption comes in realizing the darkness for what it is: a part of everyone.
Marlow also confronts the darkness, trekking into the heart of the forest to meet its incarnation in Kurtz. Marlow, in a profound parallel to Simon’s vision, imagines him “opening his mouth voraciously, as if to devour all the earth with all its mankind” (Conrad 116). Soon after Kurtz dies, Marlow falls victim to illness and barely escapes, perhaps sustained by work or a “deliberate belief” (69) that Kurtz’s name should be kept alive. Additionally, Kurtz has an overwhelming effect on individuals somewhat analogous to that of the Lord of the Flies. While the latter causes Simon to have a fit and believe that the head was expanding, the former makes the Russian feel as if his mind was becoming enlarged (92). He also has the essential ingredient of belief, breathed out in his final cry, “the expression of some sort of belief; it had candour, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth” (113), but, as critic Florence Ridley argues, his lack of restraint consigned him to death. While he goes through the same recognition of humanity and understands the same temptations in a land where no external controls exist, “Marlow does precisely the opposite [as Kurtz], does not succumb, does not ‘go ashore for a dance and a howl’” (par. 3). He finds salvation in his deliberate choice to reject the primitive lust that is a “moral shock…altogether monstrous, intolerable to thought and odious to soul” (Conrad 105). In the macabre scene where he discovers Kurtz crawling to escape from the boat, he glimpses the intrinsic bestiality in man, mirroring the dehumanizing of a “dog-like” Jack, “nose only a few inches from the humid earth,” “on all fours,” crouching in “the semi-darkness of the undergrowth” (48). Although he recognizes the darkness, the fascination of the abomination within himself, he refuses to be seduced by it, demonstrating discipline and self-possession. In this way, he passes his “moral test” (Ridley par. 2), while the darkness devours Kurtz.

Nathan Price’s family also passes the moral test, while Nathan himself festers in an even more pathetic state than Kurtz, who at least is worshipped by the natives. The African villagers reject Nathan outright, but he cannot accept his failure and belligerently marches on, vehemently believing himself to be a vessel of God. His chauvinistic, egomaniacal need to dominate perpetuates an uncomfortable spirit that invades his home, and the women in his family seem to be simultaneously languishing in the heat of the jungle and on edge in fear of his wrath. Indeed, his pride and ignorance blind him from letting any human be equal to him, let alone be near him. Even Orleanna, his once-devoted wife, feels disillusioned and distanced. His personal quest for salvation, redemption for surviving the war while his comrades did not, even leads him unabashedly to take advantage of the sky crying at his youngest daughter’s funeral, where he baptizes Kilanga’s children in the rain as he was utterly incapable of leading them to the river. His family, even Rachel, the oldest but least astute of his daughters, realizes what he is too obstinate to accept: “You can’t just sashay into the jungle aiming to change it all over to the Christian style, without expecting the jungle to change you right back” (Kingsolver 619). Her particular belief – “stick out your elbows, and hold yourself up” (620) in a crowd – serves her well, and even though she continues to live in the literal heart of darkness, it never manages to get a grasp on her. Adah perhaps embraces the darkness in her soul more than the others do. Like Kurtz, she recognizes hypocrisy in the supposed bringer of light, the savior “Our Father,” but unlike Kurtz, she stays grounded, never “kick[ing herself] loose from the earth” (Conrad 107). In fact, she stays closer to the ground than many for most of the book, as her limp causes her to drag one side of her body. Her way of seeing things slant brings shrewd, incisive observations about her father, and despite her cynicism, she gives the most accurate portrayal of Nathan. Leah also chooses to remain in the heart of darkness, but after observing Nathan’s deterioration, she develops her own strong beliefs, filling herself with the light of knowledge and renouncing the darkness represented by her father. Orleanna and the three of them watch his decline with distaste while accepting their complicity, knowing “they are responsible in some way for the horrors…and they seek forgiveness” (Ognibene par. 14). By observing his moral decay, they avoid the same fate, walking consciously away from sorrow, from Nathan, and from darkness. The figure who does not leave with them has already been liberated from darkness in a quick strike of a sky blue mouth: that split-second gaping abyss again recalls the voracious aspect of the Lord of the Flies and Kurtz. Ruth May “would have made mistakes caused you pain eaten the world in one bite” (Kingsolver 641), but because of the darkness in man’s heart, she never had the chance. Her obsession with the green mamba snake and the resentment of the local witch doctor for Nathan throughout the novel foreshadow her fate, and when the innocent daughter finally encounters the serpent, she releases herself and her family from the captivity of horror.

Under societal pressures, self-awareness offsets the inherent devolutionary tendencies, but even without any constraints, humans must maintain their convictions and stay in command of their psyches. They must accept the fascination with abomination but cannot let themselves be consumed by it. Instead, they must fight it with self-restraint, with a belief, and with the light that dwells side by side with the darkness in their hearts.



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