Following a lively first class, I’m posting a few links that will help us think about consciousness in (I hope) new and different ways. I’m also posting a link of resources for thinking about literary theory and science fiction.
The first link is compliments of Michael Schuster. This is the article he referenced during class.
For those of you who enjoyed The Brain with David Eagleman, here is a link to the first episode in the documentary series.
For those of you who would like to watch David Chalmer’s TED talk on consciousness, which comes highly recommended by Rachel, click here.
Lastly, if you are interested in learning more about literary theory and how it connects to science fiction, please visit this site.
Rachel and I elected to teach Howards End and On Beauty for self-evident reasons: both
novels are exquisitely crafted in terms of plot, imagery, symbolism and character development, and, consequently, both novels are eminently readable and teachable. Readers encounter in these novels sympathetic portraitures of humans struggling and often failing, in the words of Forster, to “only connect”. The fact that all of us desire at times to connect and fail, like the characters, to do so, lends a universality to the themes of the novels that transcends the limitations of time and place (Edwardian England, the United States during the first decade of the 21st century). Both novels move along a stylistic fault line where comedy and satire (Forster’s carefully crafted representation of middle class arrogance and folly, Smith’s accurate and barbed depictions of the inflated egos and meaningless chatter of academics and administrators) pushes against tragedy (the senseless death of Leonard Bast, the death of Carl Thomas’s poetic and scholastic aspirations) causing tremors and upheaval.
Zadie Smith acknowledges her indebtedness to E. M. Forster, and she pays homage to him by repurposing much of the structure of Howards End in On Beauty. Her novel, however, is not a pastiche, or simple retreading of the path worn by E. M. Forster’s writing. Although a reader familiar with Howards End will immediately recognize Smith’s indebtedness, On Beauty stands on its own. One needn’t read Howards End (presumably many of Smith’s readers had not) to appreciate the merits of On Beauty.
Smith, to an even greater extent perhaps than Forster, dips into a vast reservoir of history, culture and academic theory. Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps exemplify liberal and conservative positions in how they approach art, textuality, religion and even the question of affirmative action. Karen Armstrong, a character who only appears in one brief section, provides the reader with a passionate, living examination of the Rembrandt paintings that is overlooked in Howard’s arid and pedantic theorizing. In Smith’s writing, the paintings of Rembrandt and Haitian artists are vividly realized in ways that seem alien to her characters who make a living teaching about them. There is also the liminality of the various characters – Howard, a white, British expatriate from a lower-class background who has married Kiki, a black American, and now works at Wellington College; Monty, a knighted, black, Caribbean-British intellectual who starts the novel in London, but moves with his family to Boston. And then, of course, there are the young characters who struggle to define their identities – Levi, who embraces the cause of Haitians, even though he has really only learned about Haiti through a book, Carl, who shifts between hip-hop and classical music, the gritty streets of Boston and the refinement of Wellington, and Victoria, who moves from sexual relationship to sexual relationship in search of somebody who “sees” her as a person. In all of this Smith moves seamlessly back and forth between geographic and ideological positions: London and Boston, Foucault and TuPac all find places in her world.
One of the cultural borrowings I have not addressed is Zadie Smith’s use of Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just. I’ve included a link to it here for anyone who might want to skim it.
“My defence at any Last Judgement would be ‘I was trying to connect up and use all the fragments I was born with.’” E. M. Forster
“Tolerance is a very dull virtue. It is boring. Unlike love, it has always had a bad press. It is negative. It merely means putting up with people, being able to stand things.” E. M. Forster
1 January 1879 – Born to Alicia (aka Lilly) Clara Whichelo and Edward (aka Eddie) Morgan Llewellyn Forster. Lilly’s father was an impoverished drawing master who died when Lilly was twelve. Eddie’s father was a clergyman, and was connected to the Clapham sect – a strict, evangelical social reform group. Their values had an ongoing influence on Forster, and his writing frequently reflects those values. Eddie’s family had, in contrast to Lilly’s family, a significant amount of money, which would allow them to support Forster. Eddie, Forster’s father, was an architect.
30 October 1880 – Eddie Forster dies. The death of Eddie means that Lily, and Forster’s aunts, will play a major role in raising Forster. Forster will live with his mother most of the time until her death in 1945. Forster would later write to Bob Buckingham, “Although my mother has been intermittently tiresome for the last 30 years, cramped and warped my genius, hindered my career, blocked and buggered up my house, and boycotted my beloved, I have to admit she has provided a sort of rich subsoil where I have been able to rest and grow. That, rather than sex or wifiness, seems to be women’s special gift to men.”
1883 – 1893 – Forster and his mother live in a house in Hertfordshire that becomes the model for Howards End.
1895 – Oscar Wilde is imprisoned for “sodomy and gross indecency”.
1897-1901 Forster enrolls at King’s College Cambridge and becomes involved with a discussion group, “the Apostles” where he meets people who will become part of the Bloomsbury Group in the early 20th century.
1901-1902 Forster travels through Greece and Italy with his mother. Their stay in a pension in Italy provided inspiration for the setting of A Room with a View.
1903 Forster starts writing A Room with a View.
1905Where Angels Fear to Tread. Lionel Trilling, “Forster’s first novel appeared in 1905. The author was 26, not a remarkable age at which to have written a first novel unless the novel be, as Forster’s was, a whole and mature work dominated by a fresh and commanding intelligence.”
1906 Forster meets and falls in love with Syed Ross Masood, a young Indian man.
Masood “woke me up out of my suburban and academic life, showed me new horizons and a new civilization and helped me towards the understanding of a continent… There never was anyone like him and there never will be anyone like him” (Moffat 91).
1907The Longest Journey.
1908A Room with a View.
1909 “The Machine Stops”
1912-1913 Forster visits India.
1913 Forster begins Maurice – a celebration of same-sex love. He also starts writing A Passage to India.
28 July 1914 The Great War (World War I) begins.
1915 – 1919 Forster is a conscientious objector, who served out the First World War as a Red Cross volunteer in Egypt.
1921 Forster returns to India for a visit.
1924A Passage to India. This is Forster’s last novel. He continues to write short stories, essays and non-fiction.
1927 Forster is elected a fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. He delivers a series of lectures on novels that are later collected into Aspects of the Novel.
1930 Forster meets police officer Bob Buckingham. Forster falls in love with Bob, and the two have a relationship that includes Bob’s wife, May, until Forster’s death. Forster
wrote, in response to Bob’s praise of Bob’s sexual satisfaction with May,
“I felt a bit sad at some of the things you said yesterday, not that you meant to make me sad, but you made me think of my limitations whereas generally you make me forget them. I believe that you are right—that particular experiences which I can’t ever have might make the two people who share it feel they are in touch with the universe through each other. What a pity all (normal) people don’t get it” (qtd. in Moffat 239).
1930s – 1940s Forster is a broadcaster for BBC
1 September 1939 World War II begins.
1943 Lionel Trilling’s E. M. Forster is published. This along with the reprints of Forster’s novels leads to a “Forster revival”.
1945 Forster revisits India. Lily, Forster’s mother, dies.
28 June 1969 The Stonewall Riots occur in New York City.
7 June 1970 Forster dies.
1971 Maurice is published.
Moffat, Wendy. A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.
E. M. Forster, born January 1st, 1879, a mere three years after Queen Victoria adopted the title Empress of India, came of age in the late Victorian period, and much of the social anxiety of that period around empire, the status of women, radical politics and social class infused his writing. However, if one message threads through all of Forster’s writing, it is that admonishment at the start of Howard’s End – “Only connect!”. In A Passage to India, Forster strives to connect India and Britain, Adela and Dr. Aziz, in A Room with a View, the upper-middle class Lucy finds love with George, her social inferior, in “The Machine Stops,” Forster envisions a future society where social intercourse, mediated by the Machine, has increased immensely, but at the expense of real intimacy with others, and the posthumously published Maurice is dedicated to “a happier year,” perhaps to when two men can love each other openly. Finally, in Howard’s End, Margaret contemplates her ability to save her suitor, Mr. Wilcox:
Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire. Happy the man who sees from either aspect the glory of these outspread wings. The roads of his soul lie clear, and he and his friends shall find easy-going.
It did not seem so difficult. She need trouble him with no gift of her own. She would only point out the salvation that was latent in his own soul, and in the soul of every man. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.
Perhaps Forster’s own desire to connect was inherited. The marriage of his parents was a union between two social classes, with the poor Lilly marrying “up” into the wealthier Forster family. Perhaps, too, the fact that Forster’s father, Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, for whom Forster was accidentally named, died when Forster was two meant that Forster missed that connection. Perhaps, Forster’s depiction of, at the time, socially problematic connections (Indian and British, male-male, social inferior and social superior), was produced by his reading of his father’s homoeroticism. After all, as Wendy Moffat writes in A Great Unrecorded Life: A New Life of E. M. Forster, Lilly and Eddie had gone on their honeymoon, not with a lady companion for Lilly, but with a male friend of Eddie’s, Ted Streatfeild. Moffat notes that Aunt Monie “wrote that [Streatfeild] was ‘very nearly’ a lady companion, ‘I own, but not quite’” (25), and “While Lily rested at the hotel, the men walked and talked” (25-26). Perhaps, Forster sought connection because of how others read him as a child as effeminate:
The whole of the world appeared as a set of rules, to be negotiated with care if you were not powerful. There seemed to be ways to earn a little safety. At the age of four, Morgan told his mother he “would much rather be a coward than brave because people hurt you when you are brave.” At other times it seemed that however much one tried, who you were was determined by whether you adequately act a part. But both his anachronistic dress and his extremely sensitive manner made him seem “half a girl,” Lily complained. “I was he was more manly and did not cry so easily.” Once, when he was mistaken for a girl by a servant, he was told to go back and correct the misapprehension. Dutifully, he returned and announced, “I’m a little boy.” “Yes, miss,” was the reply. (Moffat 30)
Perhaps Forster’s desire to connect arose out of his own homosexuality. Later in life he would record how he and a neighbor boy “built a little house between a straw stack and a hedge, and often lay in each other’s arms, tickling and screaming” (qtd. in Moffat 31). It might be proper here to historically contextualize Forster’s sexuality. In 1895, the year Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for a homosexual affair, Forster was sixteen. Forster died in 1970, just a year after the Stonewall riots in New York, and only three years after the process of decriminalizing homosexuality had begun in Britain. No wonder, then that Maurice, Forster’s ode to homosexual love, was not published until after his death, fifty-eight years after he wrote it!
As we move into a discussion of Howard’s End, I think we need to keep all of the above in mind, and we need to also keep in mind Forster’s humanist ideals. He wrote, “The humanist has four leading characteristics – curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.” His belief in the human race, his desire to “only connect,” meant that tolerance would never been enough for him: “Tolerance is a very dull virtue. It is boring. Unlike love, it has always had a bad press. It is negative. It merely means putting up with people, being able to stand things.”
I thought that those of you reading Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife for this semester’s free class might like to hear from her about why she wrote these poems. In an interview you can read here, she explains:
What I wanted to do in the book was to look at all the stories—fairy tales, myths, stories from history, film and pop music or whatever, stories of heroes which had informed me as a writer, part of my cultural ancestry. So I wanted to celebrate them, in a way, but also find a truth which hadn’t been amplified previously. And the way I wanted to do that was to find a female perspective on the character, and I did that by finding a personal connection with the fairy tale, myth, piece of cinema, etc., so that although I’m wearing the mask of Queen Herod or Mrs Beast I’m not lost in my own place, my own life. It might be that it is autobiographical in that it might be true to my imaginative life or my emotional life but not necessarily true to the actual details of my life. Once I’d done that I typed out the poems in a sort of chronological movement. So we start with “Little Red Cap” which is about a young girl becoming a poet and end with “Demeter” which is about a woman becoming a mother. So that it follows the arc of my own life in some ways.
“De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see,” opines Janie Crawford, the protagonist of Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. While Janie’s statement is a generalization, it does convey the strength and resilience of many black women in the face of adversity. Carol Ann Duffy’s title, The World’s Wife, builds off of a similar theme. Mules and wives have frequently been reduced to “beasts” of burden. Shakespeare puns off of the “bearing” of mules and women in The Taming of the Shrew in this exchange between Katharina and Petruchio:
Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
Women are made to bear, and so are you.
If women are made to bear, then at very least Duffy wishes to give them voice. Her The World’s Wife is a collection of thirty dramatic monologues, in which women from history or folklore, or women married to famous men, provide their own accounts of events.
The purpose of these monologues is to have the reader re-examine characters or stories in a new light. Consequently, these poems render anamorphic stories we thought we knew. From this new perspective we learn that Little Red-Cap is NOT the victim of the wolf, Pygmalion’s bride comes to life and responds to his caresses to get rid of him, Freud’s wife has penis pity instead of penis envy, and Queen Herod becomes the catalyst for the slaughter of the innocents because the three Queens, presumably on their way with their husbands to visit the newly born Jesus, tell her to watch for a star revealing the location of
The Husband. Hero. Hunk.
The Boy Next Door. The Paramour. The Je t’adore.
The Marrying Kind. Adulter. Bigamist.
The Wolf. The Rip. The Rake. The Rat.
The Heartbreaker. The Ladykiller. Mr Right.
who will break her daughter’s heart.
Each of these poems subverts the power structures of the original stories from which they are derived. Thus, Little Red-Cap is no longer the passive victim of the wolf’s trickery; she has agency of her own, and makes “quite sure [that] he spotted me, / sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink, / my first.” The wolf may think that he, and his command of poetry, have control over the “waif”, but she is in charge and uses her time in apprenticeship to the wolf. Ultimately, no woodsman is required to save this young woman – she’s never been lost, and she takes an axe to the wolf, “as he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat,” not to escape him but to see what’s inside him.
In some of the poems, Duffy switches the sexes of the characters, as in the case where King Kong is re-imagined as Queen Kong, and the helpless female “victim” is replaced by a willing male “partner”. Removed from the story is any threat of violence, sexual or otherwise. Queen Kong merely thinks that she can “swat his plane from these skies like a gnat,” without actually doing so, and her trip to New York to retrieve her paramour, far from involving the violence of the movie, turns into a shopping spree for “clothes for my man, mainly, / but one or two treats for myself from Bloomingdale’s.” The biggest change, however, is the ending of the story – Queen Kong and her lover have “Twelve happy years,” and he dies peacefully, in stark contrast to the violent death of King Kong.
Part of what Duffy is doing, of course, is subverting the racist and sexist coding of the original movie. A number of critics have suggested that the 1933 movie, King Kong, played into white fears of miscegenation. The massively strong ape becomes a stand in for the “threatening” black man. The trip to King Kong’s island by the “filmmaker” is a nod towards imperialist expeditions to “exotic” and “savage” locals. The ape’s fascination with the white, blonde woman is another iteration of the worn-out literary and cinematic trope of hypersexualized black males seducing and / or assaulting white women. For a more explicit presentation of that trope one need look no further than D. W. Griffith’s 1915 movie, Birth of a Nation. In the case of King Kong, the entire military and police apparatus of the white state is brought against the black “menace,” and the woman is “saved” by the death of the monster.
While Duffy explicitly “others” her Queen Kong, she makes clear that a mutually satisfying relationship is possible. Queen Kong may have come in pursuit of her lover, but he has a “blown-up photograph” of her over his head. However unusual Queen Kong’s relationship with her paramour might be, she, and the reader, don’t doubt that “no man / has been loved more”
Before concluding I want to point out that Duffy employs a variety of poetic forms, meters and rhyme schemes. For example, her poem “Anne Hathaway” is written as a sonnet, which, of course, is appropriate for the wife of Shakespeare, who popularized that form in the English language. At the same time, Duffy, makes the poem uniquely Hathaway’s by having her adhere to iambic pentameter in the meter but eschew Shakespeare’s rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef) for the three quatrains. The volta, however, follows Shakespeare’s pattern by being a rhyming couplet that moves the speaker from a discussion of her and Shakespeare’s bed and love life, to his death: “I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head / as he held me upon that next best bed”.
For a better discussion of these poems, visit this link: