34/1030:  “Die Küste des Exils” continued 

Mircea Cărtărescu is a Romanian author who was asked to contribute to a collection of writings about the Black Sea: Odessa Transfer (2009). Several other eastern and middle European and Turkish  writers contributed- anyone who had something to say about the Black Sea coast. The themes of the collection are travel and the unrest that comes with the transgression of borders. “Den literarischen Nachrufen auf das Untergehende und Verlorene lassen wir mit Odessa Transfer die Erzählungen vom Leben am Meer und die Reflexion über Räume der Unruhe folgen” (1).  An important part of these contributions are reflection, this thinking back on this region, despite maybe having different intellectual and cultural ideas of this space.

Of course, I can’t help but think about the text in light of my new knowledge of the existence of an anthropological approach to literature (really, how is this different than cultural studies?), but I will try to focus on what I already know.

“Ovid hatte noch geglaubt, der Mensch verwandle sich ausschließlich unter Einwirkung der Götter. Seit Kajka wissen wir, daß dem nicht so ist.”(Unbekannter osteuropäischer Geschichtslehrer)

Something that struck me about this text, as I already mentioned before, are the intertextual references. Was Kafka mentioned because of this quote, one I found in the epigraph to the next text? Or is he significant as an inner exilist? Someone who felt a stranger in his own land, sort of like the guest at the wedding (96).

The other references, of course to Ovid most of all, are significant. He is the original exilist on the Black Sea. He was the famous exiled Roman, sent to live among the “barbarians.” He experienced the loneliness and displacement of an exile, and as a poet, whose magic was in songs and words (the Euripides Chor makes an appereance, reminding of Nietzsche) and who lost the words.

diese Briefe wurden immer ungehobelter, enthielten immer mehr sarmatische, illyrische und getische Wendungen, bis er gegen Ende eine neue, eine unbekannte Sprache erfunden hatte, die Sprache des Unglücks, in der alle wahren Bücher geschrieben werden. (108-109)

While a hybrid language resulted, one of unhappiness and bad luck, it’s the one Cărtărescu says all true books are written in. This, of course, relates strongly to Bakhtin who would argue the same thing. For him, the novel was the most successful art form, since it allowed all kinds of language to base expressed, common and art. Lyric, or poem, cannot reach this.

Und am Ende schrieb er in der getischen Sprache, hatte er die barbarischen Wörter ins lateinische Versmaß gegossen. Das Gedicht fand Gefallen. Und seitdem galt er unter den Barbaren als Dichter. Das Kauderwelsch der Ein- heimischen erldang in zehntausend Sprachen des Meeres, und Ovid, der Dichter der Liebe, der Schönheitspflege und der Metamorphosen, sah sich gezwungen, sie alle zu lernen. (102)

The language of the sea slowly poured into his writing. And this sea had 10,000 languages. And he had to learn them all. There’s something significant about the water image throughout the text, and the ending line: “Denn nach Mallarmé ‘existiert die Welt nur, um in ein schönes Buch zu münden'” (110). The world only exists so as to flow into a pretty book.

I wonder if there’s a connection here to biosemiotics and therefore to the rising understanding of nature in anthropological studies of literature (or vice versa), but one thing is for sure, this is an extremely productive text for my PhD project.

Work Cited:  Cărtărescu, Mircea. “Die Küste des Exils.” Odessa Transfer Nachrichten vom Schwarzen Meer. Ed. Raabe, Katharina und Monika Sznajderman. Frankfurt am Main: Surkamp, 2009. 93-110. Print.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.


31/1030: Response in Responsibility

Damn. I can’t seem to keep up with my work.  But I really wanted to respond to a Denkanstoss  I had in class yesterday.

In my intro to Russian kultursemiotik class, the instructor handed out a sort selection of “Kunst und Verantwortung” in German. The philosophical points about the unity and fragmentation of a person are something I’ll return to, but what struck me was the uses of the words “Schuld” and “Verantwortung.” Both terms, guilt and responsibility, are cultural and religious. We are all guilty, according to the Abrahamic religions, and we must answer for those sins somehow. To combine these concepts with our relation to art is not a new idea for me, since I’ve participated in postcolonial looks at “Paradise” stories and since reading exile literature, but the significance of the word “Verantwortung” is new to me.


Selection from “Art and Answerability” from the Liapunov translation in Early Philosophical Essays (1990) 

As may already be indicated by the choice in Liapunov’s translation versus my translation, the root of the word used in the original word in Russian is “answer. ” Consider ответ versus  ответственность. The same thing happens in all the languages I know.

Antwort – Verantwortung

response – responsiblity

réponse – responsabilité

Obviously, this makes sense, since to claim responsibility means to “answer for” something. However, this idea of the reader’s response being important comes most to light in the English. While Bakhtin and his contemporaries were more structuralists, interested in the relation between form and content, Bakhtin also seemed to be in line with the reader-response theorists of the 60s and 70s. In a way, one can interpret Bakhtin’s first published essay to argue that the reader is responsible for the success of the art.

“[…] der Mensch muss wissen, dass an der Unfruchtbarkeit der Kunst seine eigene Anspruchlosigkeit sowie die mangelnde Ernsthaftigkeit seiner Lebensprobleme Schuld sind” (93 from the class handout of the text in German).


By not being demanding of the art, we lose the right to having access to it. If we do not examine our own lives, we are unable to examine art properly. Bakhtin says “[a]rt and life are not one, but they must become united in myself– in the unity of my answerability” (2 of the English 1990 text). We can only expect to find out lives in art and art in life if we accept and response to their unity.

I haven’t decided yet how that corresponds with my PhD, but since I am looking at Bakhtin for my thesis, this can’t be totally irrelevant.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.


90 Years of Gatsby

It’s funny, but I think The Great Gatsby is one of the first real pieces of classical adult US literature that I’ve ever read. At least, it’s the one that left the greatest impression on me.
My classmates and I were asked to read it in the 9th grade, and I remember how confused I was by Gatsby’s antiheroism, Daisy’s adultery, Nick’s naivete and the hedonism the characters celebrated.
Ten years later, two movie versions complicating my memory of the books and visions of the characters, and 90 years after the first publication of Fitzgerald’s novel in 1925, I can’t say I have much more of value to say. I will say that the fragmentary nature of the novel and the symbolism of the lighthouse and the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckelberg make more sense to me, but I still feel left out from the world of the 1920s Fitzgerald painted a picture of. I guess this justifies a return to the novel. I encourage you to do the same.

Don Delillo’s White Noise

I have a run to go on and have spent a lot of time today updating my blogs (finally), but I can’t pass up the chance to talk about this book.

I haven’t done too much reading outside of thesis and class work for a while, but Delillo’s White Noise was worth the time it took to get through the sometimes dry, slow writing.

Basically, all I feel like writing now is that it deals with one of life’s biggest questions, death, and works with the topic and how it affects people in the most intelligent, fascinating of ways. The characters are despicable, pathetic, and absolutely normal. They are no more to blame for the way they behave than the rest of us, all insecure in our own ways and all worthy of pity.

That at least, is how a first impression of the novel works on me. If I ever get back to this, I can write more about it. Maybe some things will ferment in the meantime.

I encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already. At first I thought I wouldn’t like it (it’s a bit snobby in what it expects, intellectually), but can be appreciated as a “fun” read to.

Happy reading… this or anything else.

The True History of the Kelly Gang

What is “true”? And how is this the most “true” history we have of the famous “bushranger” and outlaw?

Initially, the story of an Australian man who becomes his country’s “Robin Hood” seems far off the map of “post-colonial literature.” Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang is of course new, and English language, literature. However, it does not fall into the normal stereotypes of what makes literature post-colonial at all (specifically speaking, it initially seems like it has little to do with race, former colonies [that one is just ignorance], and crossing borders). However, of course this is “post-colonial” literature. There are many signs for it and justifications for the label. Because it’s so easy to take this literature (and much of the “new” literatures being produced) and point out “post-colonial” aspects, I am beginning to wonder if our world is just so marked by colonialism that conceiving anything outside of this hegemony is even possible. If so, I think I am a bit disappointed because there must be other, news ways of talking about literature.

However, I need to illuminate a few reasons this is “post-colonial.” Different ethnic minorities are clearly pointed out fairly early on in the novel. First of all, Australia was an English colony with indigenous people already living on the land, just like many of the UK’s other colonies. Furthermore, these indigenous people (who are/were People of Color) were referred to as “black” and come up several times in the novel, the earliest occasion when Ned and Jem are out and about: “Cor look at them blacks said Jem […] damn them said Jem we was raised to think the blacks the lowest of the low but they had boots not us […]” (Carey 15). The lack of boots indicates an economic status that illuminates a further distinction of social status and class within Australia that extends beyond indigenous groups. One can further consider that Ned Kelly and his family (as well as many of his “peers”) were Irish and therefore another group of colonized people. Am I saying that racism or race/ethnicity relations define a text as post-colonial? Nope. But I do suggest that it is worth discussing in the context.

A more nuanced reading will reveal many other facets that are common themes in post-colonial literature. There is the large question of voice and who is allowed to speak. Ned Kelly is a criminal, yes. But he is also an individual who has experienced suppression and injustice and he is given a voice “in a dazzling act of ventriloquism” (as the eloquent writer on the back of my book writes) that is otherwise denied him. In light of essays like “Can the Subaltern Speak,” this move is rather “post-colonial,” though care must be made to consider that Kelly doesn’t really belong to the subaltern, nor is his representation skewed by a discourse that originally misunderstands/suppresses him (though I suppose someone more educated in criminal anthropology/psychology may disagree).

Perhaps the most valid point about the “post-colonialness” of this novel is that it makes many of the same moves as other post-colonial literature in its “rewriting” of history. Not only is the question of time itself constantly pushed through the forefront, with things like the epigraph by William Faulkner: “The past is not dead. It is not even past,” but the way time is represented is challenged in more than just content. One has mixed mediums of parcel titles, letters, and references to newspaper articles and telegrams. The letters are presented as real, non-fiction, and yet they were created by Peter Carey. At the same time, this voice of Ned Kelly seems just as valid as any other voice (perhaps also because it uses the model of a real sequence of letters written by Kelly) that may have been provided by another writer. This complicates our ideas of “objective” history, “true” history, which is again very relevant to the discussion of post-colonial literature.

Gah, I feel like there’s more that needs to be said here… I’ve left some thoughts unfinished, but I have a thesis to go and write, so…

This was a good book and quick to read.  Even taken outside of the post-colonial context, it is a new way of looking at an old story and provides a sympathetic explanation for a few murders and criminal actions (though I still don’t condone it, it’s very western-esque, though labeling it as such opens a whole ‘nother kettle of fish).

Reading Response to Sea of Poppies

In responding to this novel, I was encouraged to think about the role “space” as a concept plays throughout the novel, and the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that in order to do that, I needed to also think about how the characters in the novel move through and observe space, and how the distinctions made between space and place define the shifting meanings of migrant, exile, and travel. It seems fitting that the book ends with the image of eyes, since eyes are the only part of our body that can travel space and observe a particular place. In a similar way, Deeti’s shrine, both in her home and on the ship, collect images of things and faces that cross many spaces and still are kept together within the confined place of the shrine. The shrine as a metonymy of the ship reflects the powerful roll place has in the “post-colonial,” new English literature, where the experiences and stories, dozens of different voices, must coherently fit within the pages of the novel (and in this way is reminiscent of another space, namely Mary Louise Pratt’s idea of the “contact zone”).

I was reminded of this several times throughout, for example when Neel is telling the story of Ganga-Sagar Island to the others. It happened when the “remembered words” were “strong upon” him (Ghosh 416) and Neel reminded the listeners of this spot, this island, at a different time. The place has a significance beyond its actual being a place of history, for it is a place remembered and a place to get away from, as Deeti hopes they do. “There’s nothing worse than to sit here and feel the land pulling us back.” The power of memory and telling, and the significance it holds for the teller as well as the listener became more apparent to me in a passage that struck me more than any other (390-392). This is when Ah Fatt tells his story to Neel for the first time, after Neel  has just passed his former home, Raskhali, a place that holds more significance for the things done there and the people been with than the space itself. The traveling that happens in an exile’s, or migrant’s mind is articulated most clearly here: “Raskhali was so close that Neel could almost hear the bells of its temple. What he needed now, was to be elsewhere, in a place where he could be free of his memories” (391)… “Thus it happened that while the Ibis was still on the Hooghly, Neel was being transported across the continent, to Canton-“ (391). And the passage continues with ideas about the role of imagination in crossing these spaces, and the role of collaboration as well as claiming a space “as one’s own.”

It is also significant that it is Neel who tells these stories and gives the reader these articulations, since he is also a character who serves as a sort of author figure, and serves in a way as a creator of a contact zone. I could see myself discussing this further in a term paper, but this is probably not the space for that.

The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus

Not to be confused with Johann von Goethe’s Faust (Books One and Two), or with Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, or with dozens of other theatrical, musical and literary reworkings of the story, this play is inspired by the same real life persona (sources differ on which one it is): Dr. Johann Georg Faust of the 15th century. The basic gist is that Faust is a learned scholar who becomes dissatisfied with all he can learn and do with human knowledge, and turns to alchemy and “dark knowledge.” It’s not so much the fascination with the dark magic that forms the crux of these tales, but rather the lengths to which a person’s soul will go to obtain that beyond his/her reach and what s/he does when s/he obtains it. One should probably elaborate on that further, but first I wanted to address the short summary on the back of my edition of the 1604 Quarto:

Marlowe was an English poet, dramatist and translator [no Oxford comma!] in the Elizabethan period. Faust is the famous story of a man selling his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. On a deeper level man’s decay from choosing material things over the spiritual is depicted.

I don’t think this is a bad summary of the play or the story. It’s not inaccurate and captures the main idea of the story pretty well. Faustus’s main goal is to gain knowledge and power after he has achieved the highest levels of learning in science, medicine, philosophy and theology. He wants more knowledge because it grants him, to some extent, more power. I see his greatest vice as being pride, with a close second as gluttony, but this does not contradict the summary. Where I find the summary lacking is the supposed “deeper level” of the play. I don’t think material wealth over spiritual is the main point at all. I see this interpretation weakly when the “Good Angel” and “Evil Angel” enter for the first time:

GOOD ANGEL. Sweet Faustus, think of the heaven and heavenly things.

EVIL ANGEL. No, Faustus, think of hounour and of wealth.

Clearly, the reader is introduced to two opposing forces here. Yet the struggle cannot be so deep when the one thing is as a “thing” while the other is tangible and strikes the desires more closely. I think the struggle lies even deeper, and to understand where I think one should look at where Faust is first tempted to repent. It happens right after Faustus  asks Mephistophilis about heaven and who created the earth. Mephisto explains how there are nine heavens and spheres, but will not tell Faustus who made the world. It is “against our kingdom.” Denied this knowledge, Faustus wants to repent and the Good Angel and Bad Angel enter again.

However, why did Faustus want to know? And why wasn’t he told? And why would not being told and still not knowing make him want to repent? I think this has to do with the nature of knowledge and the deeper struggle at work here. It does not have to do with wealth so much as with faith and the ability to accept that there are things unseen and unimaginable. Thus, it is humility that I think Marlowe tries to teach the reader with his play, not so much a particular religious message that spiritual wealth is better.

This interpretation is fueled in part by my knowledge of Marlowe’s other play, The Jew of Malta, which also walks fine lines between religious beliefs, tolerance, and stereotypes, but in the end questions other values.

Mephisto is always my favorite character. He’s neither good nor bad (I mean, why else would he speak in favor of the poor farmer who wants to buy Faustus’s horse?), but he’s more of a joker figure. Plus, when Arthur Darvill plays him, it’s only better.

So, while I appreciate what I got from this play through Marlowe, I still like Goethe’s better. In Goethe’s works, the moral ambiguity is more strongly portrayed and Faust isn’t irrevocably damned. He is able to redeem himself. Maybe I’m just a sucker for happy endings, I guess.