In September of last year, 2013, I began my Masters in ‘American Literature and Film’, in University College Cork. As part of the course, I was required to keep a research blog which was to be updated on a continual basis. This essay is a reflective one on the processes, topics and experiences I have had over the year to date in writing this blog. The topics were of our, the students, choosing. We were however required to write a blog on two seminars given over the year, but we were not constricted in this regard as there were a large range of topics to choose from, from a number of different fields presented by those both inside and outside of the college.
My first post, which is written below, was a very general post. As it being my first experience writing something of its kind, I was unsure as to what to write. I didn’t discuss anything in depth, merely made mention to my perceived view of the English department’s obsession of ‘the other’. I also strayed away from focusing on literature or film, in referring to the future purchase of books for the course. The first post, written on the 21st of September is as follows:
“So, as part of my MA programme (American Literature and Film), I have been tasked with writing a blog. It’s strange writing this in the knowledge that pretty much the whole world could see it, yet few, if any, will. For our first proper class we have been told to read a selection of poetry. On the front cover was a picture from a journal called ‘others’. What is it with the English department’s obsession with ‘others’? (I mean the idea of ‘the other’, rather than this specific text). Saying that, I could be wrong in my assumption that this is in fact about the ‘other’, but we shall see. I’m going to go out on a whim and say I’m probably right. I’ll get reading tomorrow and see if my assumptions were correct. Side note: Just spent around €120 on books for the course. I could probably have gotten some from the library, but I just like having my own. Besides, what kind of literary enthusiast would I be without a few books in my collection? So, to my many, or very few, or non-existent readers, until next time.”
My second post, on ‘Tragedy in Death of A Salesman’, which I later wrote an essay on, was more appropriate I feel than my first post as a research blog. In this post I went into why I thought the play fell under the genre of tragedy. Having missed the class on the play, in which they went into detail of views on the text, I was going in without any prior knowledge. I personally saw the play as a tragedy, a view which is still up for debate among critics. This post, written on the 14th of October is as follows,
“Seeing as I missed the lecture where we talked about tragedy in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, I thought I’d write about it here. When we think of a tragedy (play), we wouldn’t often think of a modern text. We would be far more inclined to think of the Greeks, Romans, or Shakespeare, but certainly not something produced in 1949. It seems as if the world has moved on from the tragic genre. But wait! It would be wrong to say there is no such thing as a modern tragedy. After all, Death of a Salesman does in fact display some key traits. According to the Oxford English dictionary, a tragedy can be defined as a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character. Under that definition it is pretty clear that Willy Loman is part of a tragedy, as we see with his constant struggles and eventual suicide. Willy Loman was a man obsessed with the American dream. The idea consumed him and turned him mad, evidence of which can be seen in the clip above. It was a dream he could not achieve, and so he was unable to provide for his family. His realisation that his life assurance pay-out would be more beneficial than his wage alive drives him to suicide. To reflect his own words to Charley, “you end up worth more dead than alive”. However, At Willy’s funeral, it is seen that his intentions were in vain, as Biff appreciates his father even less. Biff does not feel that his father died an honourable death, and the fact that Willy did not achieve what he desired in his death makes it tragic. So, in summation, Death of a Salesman, at least in my view, clearly falls into the realm of tragedy.”
It wasn’t until a post I made on the 16th of November, I really think I got the hang of writing for a blog. The subject choice in this post was ‘Breaking Bad’, a show which at the time I had only recently started watching, with the encouragement of a number of friends. In this post, I read into it more than I had done with some previous posts, and I had a real interest in the subject of choice. I also supplied a short clip form the show which obviously can’t be seen here, but which I felt helped the reader to see that Whitman does appear through references in the show. I feel this interest was reflected in the resulting post, which follows,
“Having recently started watching Breaking Bad, I was pleased to see reference to one of the great American writers. Clearly Walter White’s name makes reference to Walt Whitman. Not only that, but in the show, Walt’s son is also named Walter, again a reference to Whitman, whose father was Walter. In the most recent episode I watched, Walt’s assistant even recites Whitman’s When I heard the learn’d astronomer.
‘When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars’
In this poem, Whitman comments on the way in which the scientific world is viewed. It is placed in opposition to the world of beauty, art, etc. Science, to a scientist, has lost its beauty. It has become just numbers, and words. It is no longer the thing of magic it once was. Whitman characterizes the scientific approach towards nature as dull, unlike the approach of the poet. Only when the narrator leaves the lecture hall does astronomy mean something, when, alone, he looks up in awe at the night sky. This is a revelation Walter experiences in Breaking Bad. He soon finds the magic again and yearns for it. His leaving the classroom, opens his eyes to the world. He, like the student in the poem, is no longer trapped in the lecture room. He has escaped into the ‘mystical moist night-air’. Although, considering how the show in general is playing out, as well as what I’ve heard since the show has finished, it seems Walt doesn’t achieve the same level of freedom as the student in the poem. I suppose I shall find out in time.”
After the conclusion of ‘Breaking Bad’, I decided to write about my views on the question on many people’s minds, ‘Did Walter win?’ This post was more of a personal view, than one of research. I did however use the show as reference to support my opinion, so it wasn’t entirely personal. Having finished the series, and now knowing what I know about it, I think it would be interesting to re-watch the show in a much more critical way in order to further develop arguments for and against Walt’s apparent victory. This post, written on the 14th of January, is as follows,
“Since the conclusion of Breaking Bad, there have been many questions floating around the internet. One of these being, ‘Did Walter win?’
From the beginning, Walter’s goal had been to provide for his family. He had fought a losing battle with cancer, and knew his death would eventually come. And so, he sought to help them as much as possible, before the inevitable happened. When he first set out, his aim was to reach $737,000. He made that and then some. He eventually amassed a fortune of around $80 million. However, as things worked out, he did lose about $70 million of that. Still, who would be unhappy with a $10 million departing gift? Well, for one, Walt’s family.
In the process of becoming a drug lord, Walt destroyed his family. His wife grew to hate and fear him, especially after his ‘I am the danger’ speech. In the end, everyone knew about his second life. Walt, had always known what he was doing was wrong, hence his fear of having people find out. Once they knew though, it opened the door for him to become bolder in his endeavours, thus allowing him to make more money. He became obsessed with the power he had and ‘pride’ in his product drove him over the edge. He changed from a man who feared every aspect of danger and violence, to a man who sought it out. He killed countless people, culminating in his massacre of the gang in the final episode.
Yes, Walter ended up providing for his family, but he also lost them and ruined his and their reputations. So, the question of whether or not he won is very much down to the individual viewer. Personally, I would say that he won. He did what he set out to do. He was going to die anyway and so it’s irrelevant if his family hated him. He still achieved his goal.
I wrote the first of my required seminar posts on the 3rd of February. This seminar was given by visiting lecturer, Prof. Patrick Geoghegan. I decided to write on this seminar as it not only related to my course in that, in it, he spoke about slavery in America, I wrote on it because he spoke about the Irish within an American context. The topic of choice, being Frederick Douglas and Daniel O’ Connell, had been covered in a class with Dr. Lee Jenkins previously, which helped me in that I already knew some of what Prof. Geoghegan spoke about. It wasn’t repetitive though, as his information supplied further contexts and connections, and vice- versa with Dr. Jenkins. The post is as follows,
“On January 17th I attended a lecture given by Prof. Patrick Geoghegan. In this lecture he emphasised the importance of Daniel O’ Connell in the Irish context as well as in the American. He believed himself a slave to English rule and that it was up to the catholic people (i.e. the Irish) to free themselves. The stance he took for equality in Ireland was something Frederick Douglas took on in his push for the abolition of slavery in America. Douglas himself would later be known as the black O’ Connell, such was his influence. O’ Connell’s association with the anti-slavery movement enraged people on both sides of the Atlantic. The Americans felt he was meddling in things which he had nothing to do with, while the Irish felt he should focus more on the situation at home. However, the work he did proved to be of vital importance to those involved.
De Valera once said that O’ Connell ‘took a people who were on their knees and convinced them, they were more than slaves’. This remark shows proof of O’ Connell’s importance to both the Irish and American slaves. O’ Connell was known for his ability to create emotion with power of voice and reason rather than with finely tuned sentences. In 1843, at the age of 68, he travelled the country and spoke at 31 meetings in support of repeal. This along with his many other exploits, cemented O’ Connell as a major figure in the history of Ireland. Such was his impact; he even featured in the original French text of ‘20,000 leagues under the sea’, but was omitted from the English translation until as recently as 2005. This omission is similar to what has happened in recent years in the teaching of Irish history. O’ Connell barely features in schools today, having been replaced by the likes of Michael Collins and Padraig Pearce. O’ Connell has been unfairly pushed aside in the history books, but even so, he should be remembered. When asked who he thought was the most important of Irishmen, he responded ‘Henry Gratten; after myself’.”
The second of my required seminar blogs was on Roland Emmerich’s film ‘Anonymous’, a seminar which had been given by Edel Semple. I wrote on this topic, as I was interested to see how Edel viewed a film which called Shakespeare into question. It became clear very quickly that she was less than thrilled with the Oxfordian way of thinking. It did however provide an interesting opportunity to further research a subject I would have had little opportunity to do within my particular Masters programme. This post, written on the 27th of March, is as follows,
“On the 26th of March, I attended a seminar given by Edel Semple on the Roland Emmerich film ‘Anonymous’. In this seminar, she went into detail on the Oxfordian conspiracy, as well as the Tudor Prince theory, and others on Shakespeare and his works. The focus however was on Oxford. For those of you unfamiliar with the Oxfordian conspiracy theory, it basically states that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare. Though most literary scholars reject the theory, popular interest in the Oxfordian conspiracy continues. There have been many writers attributed to having been the true author of Shakespeare’s works, but the Oxfordian theory has been the most popular among sceptics. In an attempt to sway audiences to the Oxfordian theory, Emmerich released a trailer for the movie in which he lists ten reasons why, in his view, Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays attributed to him.
He also made materials available for schools to teach alternative authorship theory, in what he called an attempt ‘to encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine the theories about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works and to formulate their own opinions.’ The study guide does not state that Edward de Vere is the writer of Shakespeare’s works; he is merely a possible candidate. The film caused outrage among members of the academic community and the people of Warwickshire, the county in which Shakespeare was born. In response, in Shakespeare’s home county of Warwickshire, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust promoted a protest against the film by temporarily covering or crossing out Shakespeare’s image or name on pub signs and road signs.
While the film itself isn’t actually that bad, its content has sent ripples through the academic community. Had it been anyone but Shakespeare, it may have done quite well, but questioning whether or not the most famous playwright in history was actually an illiterate drunk is just asking for trouble.”
After having written on themes, characters, etc. in previous posts, I decided to write about the technicalities of stage and cinema in two of my later posts. These posts, written on the 3rd and 14th of March dealt with staging conventions in the Samuel Beckett play, ‘End Game’, and Cinematography in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. As ‘End Game’ doesn’t fall under the mantle of American Literature, I will instead supply part of the post for Citizen Kane, which follows,
“…This film is one of the great pioneers of Mise-en-scene. It has everything one could imagine, as well as what one couldn’t.The sequence introducing Susan Alexander is very clever indeed. It is night time; a thunderstorm is in progress. The camera rises to the roof (crane shot), from the conventional advertising poster depicting her face; it records the neon, and the sign ‘El Rancho’, and the name Susan Alexander Kane, and also a sky-light in the roof behind the sign.
The flash of lightning at the beginning of the scene is a diegetic sound. It can be seen as a flash on the portrait and the viewer automatically presumes something bad is about to be shown, as is the case with almost all scenarios where lightning is involved, and as we see we are not mistaken. The camera comes through the ceiling and we are introduced to the fallen from grace singer, Susan Alexander Kane. The thunder also acts as a sound bridge, creating the illusion of an uninterrupted scene as the camera goes through the skylight and into the bar…, Once we have entered the bar, we automatically focus our attention on Susan. It is not a conscious decision. We are drawn to her by the use of lighting in the scene. It is a very soft light, so soft that we can almost only see silhouettes. But this further enhances the atmosphere as darkness and depression take centre stage…,
Having said all the positives of this scene, I still have reservations to it and to the film as a whole…, This isn’t to say that I thought ‘Citizen Kane’ was a bad film; in fact, I thought everything about it was downright brilliant. From the performances right down to the meticulously planned camera movements and clever lighting tricks, there isn’t a single element of ‘Citizen Kane’ that isn’t a stunning achievement in all areas of filmmaking. It is by all accounts a master class in the art of cinematography.”
Over the course of the year, I feel my blog improved with each post. It went from highly generalised and vague, as seen in the first post, to a very detailed look at the cinematography of a specific scene within Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’. While I do feel it improved, I think I could have done better, not just in terms of subject, or execution, but also in my consistency in producing works, as gaps between posts were oftentimes great and varying. However, I am at least glad that I supplied a range of topics and opinions to those who have read my blog.