The Questionable Possibility of Utopia in Nigerian Literature

In 1516, Sir Thomas More created a place quite unlike England called Utopia. This writing oscillates between satirical and darkly comical; therefore, we must recognize that there is in “Utopia’s construction and utilization . . . a tension between reality and fiction” (Yoran 3). In this satire, what is real versus what is fiction becomes blurry. However, the core idea of a utopia itself is problematic, since the very meaning of the word is “no place,” coming from “Greek ou not, no + topos place” (“Utopia, n.”). Even though utopia as a place seems impossible, for hundreds of years people have written about utopia and its horrific, perhaps more realistic, counterpart—dystopia.[1]

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All people continue to desire for utopia because they desire improved changes for their government, their community, and their nation. While there has been research on utopia and African American and Asian American,[2] South African,[3] and East African literature,[4] very little has been written critically concerning the Nigerian utopian dream. Utopian ideology connects with Nigerian writing differently from the Western tradition by addressing political and individual concerns of pre- and post-Independence Nigeria, using mythical and native language, dreaming, and showing how intolerable divisions are destructive. This paper will analyze the following three novels: Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God (pre-Independence, published in 1964), Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests (inbetween pre- and post-Independence, officially published in 1963), and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (post-Independence, published in 1991).

Nigeria has had a long, tumultuous history. Britain conquered and ruled Nigeria for over one hundred years. In 1851, British troops seized Lagos, but Nigeria did not become an official colony until 1861; however, the British were in Nigeria in the early 1800s because they were working to stop the slave trade (Oduwobi “From . . .”). On 1 October 1960, Nigeria gained independence from direct colonial rule, becoming “the biggest free black nation in the world” (Weaver 146). There are many religious and political divisions in Nigeria, and a civil war occurred for thirty months from 1967 to 1970. However, this war did not end all the conflict, since many military juntas or coups continued for several years (“Nigeria”). Despite political conflicts, “the arts in Nigeria underwent a surge in self-confidence. Initially, Nigeria led the way in West and East Africa” (Currey 8). Africa has a rich history of art and literature, and Nigeria has been a big contributor. The Nigerian people continue to celebrate the independence of their country with festivities since that eventful day.[5]

In Nigerian utopian novels, the difference between utopia and utopianism must be distinguished. According to critic Bill Ashcroft, while utopias are impossible, utopianism is “a universal human characteristic” (8). The settings of typical utopian novels (as well as dystopian novels) are often Western settings. For example, Plato’s Republic is in Greece; Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games is set in America; Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is in England and New Mexico; George Orwell’s 1984 is in London. However, a visionary quest for a perfect society has occurred and continues to occur all over the world—not just in Western civilization. Nigerian writers, pre- and post-Independence, reveal their opinions and thoughts concerning a utopian possibility for their town, city, or country. Are Nigerian writers just copying or imitating the Western tradition of utopias to crystalize their own thoughts about a perfect society?

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To better answer this question, we must discuss mimicry. Homi Bhabha defines mimicry as “a complex strategy of reform, regulation, and discipline, which ‘appropriates’ the Other as it visualizes power” (122), suggesting that the colonial power attempts to control the Other through reform or regulation. The question could be posed as to whether the desire for utopia is a reflection of the Africans’ desire to imitate Westerners. Dress, language, education, and even religion are often associated with colonial mimicry, but “the desire for a reformed recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (Bhabba 122). Therefore, if Nigerians imitate the utopian genre, they alter it just enough to make it their own. Additionally, all people dream, which becomes a necessity for survival during times of difficulty, such as juntas or extreme poverty. As Marxist critic Ernst Bloch says, “Daydreams focus that element in thought that constantly projects consciousness forward” (Ashcroft 9), pushing people into the future rather than focusing on fantasy. Therefore, desiring a perfect society is considered the norm in any society; yet Nigerian writers use the idea of dream in their utopias differently. For example, in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, Okri uses magical realism when Azaro “dreams” to escape his present, unfortunate reality. Whether or not Azaro’s dreams are real, we meet talking cats, colorful spirits, enchanted albinos, and paranormal midgets. The book ends with this stunning line: “A dream can be the highest point of a life” (Okri 500). Life is difficult, especially for those who are poor, but dreams enable a young Nigerian boy to survive.

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Dreams for the future are also conveyed through telling stories of the past. Ashcroft argues that African literature differs from other utopian writing for two reasons: first, it “[recovers] a forgotten history” (9) and, second, it “[reimagines] the ‘past in the present’ through the kind of exuberant mythic language deployed by Ben Okri” (10). In The Famished Road, Okri shows the readers how these two reasons are quite interconnected. The narrator, a young boy named Azaro, is an abiku, or spirit child, born into poverty in Nigeria. Constantly, Azaro is being kidnapped by spirits or dying. One night Dad tells Azaro a story, combining family history and folklore, about the King of the Road, who required humans to give him sacrifices of food. The poor were unable to continue offering the sacrifices, and the King would become angry, eating people who traveled. One day the people gathered all the poison they could find and put it in the food offering. The only person to escape was “our great-great-great-grandfather” because “[h]e knew the secret of making himself invisible” (Orki 260). He saw the King of the Road eat himself up, leaving only the stomach behind. When the rain came, the stomach melted, forming the current roads. Dad concludes, “He is still hungry, and he will always be hungry. That is why there are so many accidents in the world” (261). This example combines the present, through the act of storytelling, and the past, by telling a story of an ancestor and explaining why something happens. Near the end of the novel, after Dad almost dies but escapes death, he tells Azaro that Nigeria is an abiku nation that “refuses to stay till we have made propitious sacrifice and displayed our serious intent to bear the weight of a unique destiny” (494). Saying that Nigeria or the road is hungry is a personification, since neither Nigeria nor the road could literally eat people. Rather than being hungry for food, post-Independence Nigeria is hungry for something else—for the people to remember the past in the present state of the nation. Only then can change occur. When political leaders remember that, Nigeria can stop being an abiku nation, as long as wrongs finally become right.

There is another essence of Nigerian utopian dream: “the radically new is always embedded in and transformed by the past” (Ashcroft 9). We see this idea in Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests because the connection between the past and present is real when the Nigerian community celebrates their independence. The characters include the Town Dwellers, who are living, and the Guests of Honour, a dead married couple.

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The Half-Child, who is the baby of the dead mother, is symbolic of the present/past collision. Demoke, a living townsperson, decides to return the Half-Child to the Dead mother; by making this decision, Demoke symbolizes the new, independent nation that is entrenched in and changed by the past, as symbolized by the dead Guests of Honour. When Forrest Head, the magical leader, speaks to his assistant over Demoke’s action, Forrest Head contemplates, “I have tortured awareness of their souls [i.e., the dead], that perhaps, only perhaps, in new beginnings . . . does Demoke know the meaning of his act?” (71). Critic Simon Simonse claims that African authors “turn their backs on the African past and look for alternatives in the African society as they find it” (482). However, readers do not see any “back turning” but rather a literal confrontation with the past colliding with the present. A person, a community, even a country can desire a new beginning, yet society must not forget the old customs and traditions, horrors and pitfalls of the country. Of course, the ending of this play is ambiguous, and the future state of this nation is unclear. The new leaders must remember the injustices that occurred to the poor and those without power or prestige. If the new Nigerian leaders are not transformed by the past or fail to recognize the ways the past affect them, the nation will suffer, and the dream for utopia will quickly turn into a reality of a dystopian society.

Dreaming is not always hoping and imagining; Nigerians actively work for a better future by utilizing and adapting the resources the colonizer offers—education and religion. In their quest for utopia, Nigerian authors write “to engage power and to imagine change” (Ashcroft 13). For sixteenth-century humanists, More included, education was important for both low and high classes alike. For example, all of More’s Utopian people “devote themselves to the freedom and culture of the mind. For in that, they think, is the real happiness of life” (606). In other words, in order to gain happiness and freedom, one must be educated. Therefore, in the Western tradition, gaining knowledge allowed people to achieve power and create change in order to create the perfect society. In contrast, with Nigerian literature, the colonized Nigerians use education to engage with the colonial powers and to anticipate change that could occur in the future—a powerful Nigerian nation with authoritative citizens or even a Nigeria free from colonial rule. According to Dr. Gaurav Desai, mastering the culture of Englishness occurred when African writers began to re-think their relationship with the colonizer. As a result, the colonized wanted more of the assets of colonialism, like education, but not the horrors of colonial appropriation and other atrocities.

In Arrow of God, characters seek to engage with power by mastering the culture of Englishness. Ezeulu, the Chief Priest of Ulu and leader of the community, sends his son, Oduche, to the Christian school to learn the teachings of the white colonizer. Ezeulu confesses that he sent Oduche “to learn the white man’s wisdom” (Achebe 42). Although Ezeulu cannot remove the white presence from Nigeria, he can use his son to fight against colonizer. Then Ezeulu’s decision influences the community to send their children, as well: “many people—some of them very important—began to send their children to school” (215).

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The word send is used, in connection with going to school or communication, twenty-seven times in this novel, suggesting an evolving process—when something is sent, something must be left behind or lost (e.g., you send a letter but never see that piece of paper again). While Ezeulu sends Oduche off, Ezeulu does not physically lose his son, who still lives at home; however, his son tries to kill the sacred python, indicating that Oduche has lost his tradition and religion. Ezeulu has lost his son, spiritually, to the colonizer. With More’s Western Utopia, when the people engage with power and imagine change, nothing important is lost (e.g., they still have their religion, families, and culture), and everything is gained (e.g., their perfected society, great education, no war, and improved work).

In contrast, with pre-Independence writers, engaging with power means that while the older generations may be unable to change, the children and future generations are able to engage with and master the culture of Englishness. Nonetheless, the younger generation changes in this process, becoming Anglicized Nigerians rather than pure Nigerians. With post-Independence writers, the current generation uses their education to bring themselves together. Because Nigeria has over two hundred languages, “British colonialism . . . helped foster a new national, though fractious, identity” (Richards 215). For example, in A Dance of the Forests, some sense of the past is lost: “Proverb to bones and silence” (74) is repeated hauntingly throughout the play by the old man, Agboreko. While proverbs may have lost their truth through the passing of time, all the characters, no matter their background, use the language English; through communication, even if English is the language in common for all the various groups, there is hope for a greater understanding among all the Nigerian people. Nigerians use English to benefit themselves, creating a more unified, although still imperfect, national identity.

In Nigerian utopian novels, the relation between the individual and the collective can become blurry; utopia is an impossibility, but both the individual and the collective may dream for utopianism and yet carry out that dream in different ways. According to Ashcroft, “while the equality of the individuals in the collective is a fundamental principle of utopian thought, the collective is always inimical to individual fulfillment” (11). In both Western and Nigerian tradition, the quest for utopia endures, while the fear about utopia dissolving into dystopia also continues. While we have acknowledged earlier in the paper that the concept of creating a utopia is seen in Western and Nigerian literature, it differs in that for Western writers, the look is external—the individual forces society to conform to him or her. For example, in Utopia, if a person did not conform to More’s ideal society, that person would become a slave or would be kicked out of the country. In Hunger Games, President Snow, the dictator of the Capitol, coerces the districts (the Subaltern, or lower classes) to conform to his will, which represents as the government and its law, forcing children to kill one another in the. Agency is implausible and threatening—a subject must act in accordance with the individual in charge and any deviance is considered heinous.

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In contrast, Nigerian utopian individuals have the new potential of choice more readily available because of their independent state. Nigerians can look internally to change themselves for the better of society in order to create harmony. In Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests, the ending is ambiguous—the future could become dystopian or utopian; however, when Demoke chooses to recognize the Half-Child, which could symbolize the recognition of horrors from the past and of retribution, there is considerable hope for the future of Nigeria. However, when characters in Nigerian novels do not look internally but remain selfish, utopia turns quickly to dystopia. In The Famished Road, neither the Party of the Poor nor the Party of the Rich are interested in the lower classes because they are too busy seeking power, prominence, and money.[6] Azaro’s Dad “conjured an image of a country in which he was invisible ruler and in which everyone would have the highest education, in which everyone must learn music and mathematics and at least five world languages” (Okri 409). However, since Dad cannot compete with the two parties, he is unable to make his utopia for their Nigerian community to come to pass. One night, Dad explains his hopes for the grand changes in their community, and Azaro explains what he says: “‘We have to clear garbage from our street before we clear it from our minds,’ [Dad] said, echoing something he had hear in one of the books” (Okri 410). Although Dad tries to gather the community and clean up the streets, the people never really come together as Dad had imagined. Perhaps they feel that change is impossible, that hope is not worth having.

The biggest problem with this inability to work together is related to class divisions. Literary theorist Gayatri Spivak questions whether the Subaltern can truly speak and explains that the Subaltern “acted in the interests of the [dominant groups] and not in conformity to interests corresponding truly to their own social being” (27). What is the solution that will enable the Subaltern to speak, to enable a better, if not a utopian, society to exist?

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Desmond Tutu’s description of Ubuntu proves insightful. With Ubuntu, we “recognize our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up in one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can survive only together, that we can be human only together” (Tutu 24). Therefore, if Nigerians truly followed Ubuntu, a more utopian-like society would exist. Without the government party leaders’ imposition and corruption, the poor would not live in pathetic housing, slowly starving to death, such as in The Famished Road. Although Ezeulu becomes crazy at the end of Arrow of God, Achebe could be suggesting that Ezeulu’s inflexibility as a ruler of his people was an incorrect way to govern. What Nigeria, as well as the rest of the world, really needs are social leaders and government officials who remember the Subaltern, listen to how citizens feel, and then show Ubuntu to all.[7]

In conclusion, hope is a universal aspect of all people and all nations. Nigerians may speak different languages, believe in different religions, or have different dreams, but Nigerian writers show how their people hope for their nation’s improvement. During the twentieth century, science fiction has been the dominant form for writing about utopia; however, Nigerian writers are not merely using mimicry to copy the Western tradition of utopia. Nigerian utopian thinking is distinct from other utopian/dystopian genres because Nigerian writers show readers “their distinct form of cultural and political hope” (Ashcroft 8). Utopia has become more focused on an idea, rather than a specific location: “Utopia is no longer a place but the spirit of hope itself, the essence of desire for a better world” (Ashcroft 8). We cannot know for certain the future of Nigerian utopias, but we recognize that if selfishness, greed, and hate abide in a society, whether it be Western or Nigerian, the future looks dim. However, if kindness, selflessness, and forgiveness abound in a community, then there is a greater possibility for hope for a promising future.


Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Arrow of God. New York: Anchor Books, 1974. Print.

Ashcroft, Bill. “The Ambiguous Necessity of Utopia: Post-Colonial Literatures and the Persistence of Hope.” Social Alternatives 28.3 (2009): 8–14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.

Barrett, Stanley R. “Sex and Conflict in an African Utopia.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 13.1 (1982): 19­­–35. PsycINFO. Web. 28. Mar. 2015.

Bhabha, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man.” Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Ed. J. Rutherford. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990. 222–37. Print.

Cartwright, Marguerite. “Nigerian Independence.” Negro History Bulletin 24 (1961): 99­–103. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Currey, James. “Literary Publishing after Nigerian Independence: Mbari as Celebration.” Research in African Literatures 44.2 (2013): 8­–16. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Danzieger, K. “Ideology and Utopia in South Africa: A Methodological Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge.” British Journal of Sociology 14.1 (1963): 59–76. Humanities Source. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Desai, Gaurav. English 397R. Brigham Young University. Provo, 20 March 2015.

Erritouni, Ali. “Apartheid Inequality and Postapartheid Utopia in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People.” Research in African Literatures 37.4 (2006): 68­–84. Literary Reference Center. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Joo, Hee-Jung. “Speculative nations: Racial utopia and dystopia in twentieth-century African American and Asian American literature.” Dissertation Abstracts International Section A 68. (2008). PsycINFO. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Leman, Peter. “Law and Transnational Utopias in East African Fiction. Interventions: The International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 16.6 (2014): 818­–836. EBSCO. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

More, Thomas. Utopia. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century and the Early Seventeenth Century. 9th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W.Norton, 2012. Print.

“Nigeria.” Nigeria Embassy. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Oduwobi, Tunde. “From Conquest to Independence: The Nigerian Colonial Experience.” Historia

Actual On-Line 25 (2011): 19–29. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Okri, Ben. The Famished Road. London: Doubleday, 1991. Print

Richards, Sandra L. “Nigerian Independence Onstage: Responses from ‘Second Generation’ Playwrights.” Theatre Journal 39 (1987): 215­–227. EBSCO. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Simonse, Simon. “African literature between nostalgia and utopia: African novels since 1953 in the light of the modes-of-production approach.” Research in African Literatures 13 (1972): 451­­–487. Humanities Source. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Soyinka, Wole. A Dance of the Forests. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973. Print.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Eds. Bill Ashcroft, et al. The Post Colonial Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1995. Print.

Stieber, Zachary. “Nigerian Independence Day 2014: Quotes and Sayings for Nigeria Holiday.” Epoch Times 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Tayob, Abdulkader. “Islamic Politics in South Africa between Identity and Utopia.” South African Historical Journal 60.4 (2008): 583–599. Humanities Source. Web. 28. Mar. 2015.

Tutu, Desmond. God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time. London: Doubleday, 2005. Print.

“Utopia, n.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Weaver, Edward Kimmons. “What Nigerian Independence Means.” Phylon 22 (1961): 146–159. EBSCO. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Yoran, Hanan. “More’s ‘Utopia’ and Erasmus’ ‘No-Place.’” English Literary Renaissance 35.1 (2005): 3–30. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.


NOTES

[1] When “dystopian novels” is searched online, there are 3,240 results with amazon.com but only 85 results with the website for Barnes & Noble. In contrast, when “utopian novels” is searched, the numbers drop—1,946 results with amazon.com but only 37 results with Barnes & Noble. Although these specific numbers could fluctuate, the overall trend seems to show a greater preference for dystopian novels in the year 2015.

[2] Hee-Jung Joo’s dissertation analyzed African American and Asian American literature, finding three main trends: (1) The multiracial utopias that express the contested relationship between formal and substantive citizenship throughout the twentieth century; (2) The utopian longings that stress the mid-century conflict between domestic racism and global expansionism; and (3) The contemporary dystopian scenarios that depict a US eventually destroyed by the racial contradictions of late capitalism.

[3] Ali Erritouni explores the South African writer, Nadine Gordimer’s, work: “[Gordimer] trusts that art can be effectively marshaled in the effort to resist the abuses of power” (81). Additionally, K. Danzieger’s article is a sociological study of what is happening in South Africa: “[I]n the case of the ideology of apartheid there arises the spectre of a totally ‘false consciousness’ whose every cognition must necessarily be wrong” (76). Finally, Abdulkader Tayob claims, “Islamic politics in South Africa inscribed an idealistic vision for the future. It promoted a utopian vision that was by definition unattainable” (584).

[4] BYU Professor Peter Leman explores the question “Where is the law in utopia?” in different East African literature in his paper “Law and Transnational Utopias in East African Fiction.

[5] On the one-year anniversary of Nigerian Independence, there were many celebrations and festivities. Although Queen Elizabeth II was not in attendance, she had this message read on her behalf: “I am confident that Nigeria will play a worthy role in the council of Nations and remain true to the high ideals of friendship and cooperation so manifest today, making a positive contribution to the peace and prosperity of mankind . . . .” (Cartwright 101).

[6] Chinua Achebe said, “Nigeria is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be” (Stieber “Nigerian . . .”).

[7] Susan Rice, the US National Security Advisor, said, “Nigeria has played a constructive role in peacekeeping in various parts of West Africa. But unless and until Nigeria itself is democratic and respects human rights, it too may well be a source of much greater instability as political repression limits the ability of the people of Nigeria to achieve their full potential” (Stieber “Nigerian . . .”).

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Text as a Social Force: Cultural Criticism

Thomas Hart Benton, “Hollywood”

Introduction

Text has been a part of human creation for hundreds of years. People have used art and literature to express themselves and the human condition. But the text is also a social force. Cultural criticism has changed the way readers view literature and art. Art is not merely used for entertainment or artistic expression.

Early critics include Hegel, Arnold, and Marx, while later social critics include Marx, Williams, Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, and Foucault. From Hegel to Foucault, art and texts reflect, reify, or alter social structures.

Hegel

Hegel focuses on how an idea finds meaning in relationship to others. Hegel believed “an individuals entity’s meaning rests not in itself but in the relationship of that thing to other things within an all-encompassing, ever changing whole” (Leitch 536). Hegel uses the idea of the dialectic, “which entails the confrontation of any thesis with its opposite (antithesis), and the resultant synthesis of the two through a process of ‘overcoming’” (Leitch 537).

There are two conflicts then a compromise; then there are two more conflicts and another compromise. This process continues onward. His theory stresses movement and change rather than equilibrium and motionlessness. Hegel provides the example of the Master and the Slave, a relationship full of constant tension.

Through the relationship of the lord and the bondsman, there exists two opposite modes of consciousness: “one is the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be for another” (Hegel 544).

Hegel shows that “the reciprocity of dependence” is seen in “characterizing human relationships: ‘They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another’” (Leitch 538). In “Lectures on Fine Art,” Hegel believes that “a work of art is a product of human activity,” a process of “conscious production” that can “be known and expounded, and learnt and pursued by others” (Hegel 547).

Yet “the work of art stands higher than any natural product which has not made this journey through the spirit” (Hegel 549). Being a historicist critic, Hegel considers art occurring in different stages: symbolic, classical, and romantic.

How literature changes consequently changes how we think about things, considering phenomenology or our experience with the world. Art becomes key to understanding wisdom, whether that be scientific, religious, or philosophical wisdom, not in a subservient way but in a way that art shapes culture, and culture shapes those structures.

This concept influences the text. Readers can look at a text and consider how the author resolves conflicts in his characters. It is key to understand that art bypasses how things appear, looking straight at the form of actual things. This process shapes how we perceive the form or do not adhere to actual form. Readers can see this process influence how we consider social structures.

What is government is a complex question; but readers can get various answers of the function or purpose of government through art and literature, which also shapes our interpretation of how our own government is functioning.

Because “[m]eaning and truth are never fixed because they are always in process” (Leitch 537), readers who search for answers in literature and the world around them will never find a fixed truth or specific meaning. Thus new interpretations or readings are considered permissible.

Arnold

On one hand, Arnold emphasizes that we see the object as in itself as it really is; on the other hand, literature, for Arnold, is the highest aspiration of a culture and society. These conflicting points are Hegelian in nature. For Arnold, literature is used to create a moral society.

When he asks for a criticism of life, look for cultural criticism—not just disinterested examination but a cultural criticism that enters in to a critique and evaluates when it is necessary to condemn the inadequate values of a culture. Arnold ends up engaging in political intervention of a literary sort. In fact, literature does present ideals and moral principles for us to consider.

Arnold states in Culture and Anarchy, “[M]any amongst us rely upon our religious organisations to save us. I have called religion a yet more important manifestation of human nature than poetry, because it has worked on a broader scale for perfection, and with greater masses of men. But the idea of beauty and of a human nature perfect on all its sides, which is the dominant idea of poetry, is a true and invaluable idea” (Arnold 720).

Since religion fails, poetry becomes the new religion, shaping social structures. Because poetry becomes the new religion, more focus is placed on thought than on adherence or obedience to rules. In religion, preachers tell you what to think and how to act; in contrast, literature becomes much more interpretive. Yet, at the same time, Arnold really emphasizes the importance of a critic. The critical becomes ultimately higher than the creative.

For example, Arnold writes in The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, “But criticism, real criticism, is essentially the exercise of this very quality. It obeys an instinct prompting it to try to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespectively of practice, politics, and everything of the kind; and to value knowledge and thought as they approach this best, without intrusion of any other considerations whatever” (Arnold 702).

So the critic is still important, in Arnold’s perspective. Morality becomes based on this stew of ideas rather than a clear right or wrong. The critic turns to ideas, where the poet emerges from, thus going back to poetry as a new religion to turn to new ideas. Therefore, the poet needs an intellectual and spiritual atmosphere.

Marx

Marx is a social critic, providing ways to perceive the social sphere in which we all live. Marx’s theories are does not provide direct literary interpretation but is used by later critics. Marx introduces concepts such as base and superstructure. Marx becomes Hegel’s most famous disciple, since Marx “adopts both the vision of struggle and the dream of an end to strife” (Leitch 537).

For Hegel, thoughts lead to how you live; however, for Marx, how you live your life leads to your thoughts within society. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx continues the Hegelian dialectic, highlighting “the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production” (Marx 663).

But what distinguishes Marxism from Hegelian philosophy is “that it is not only a political, economic, and social theory but also a form of practice in all these domains” (Habib 36). For example, in “The German Ideology,” Marx writes in contrast to Hegelian philosophy “which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven” (Marx 656). Because, unlike Hegelian beliefs, “we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, though of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh,” Marx sets out “from real active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process” (Marx 656).

Marx tried to find causes and solutions in the structure of society.

  1. His first “objection to capitalism was that one particular class owned the means of economic production” (Habib 36).
  2. His second objection is concerned with this unjust relationship, “the oppression and exploitation of the working classes” (Habib 36).
  3. His third objection is concerned with “the imperialistic nature of the bourgeois enterprise: in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism must spread” (Habib 36).
  4. Finally, Marx is concerned with the idea that “capitalism reduces all human relationships to . . . self-interest, and egotistical calculation” (Habib 36).

Marx set out the explanation of the base and the superstructure. The base (r the forces of productions such as the relations of property and the division of labor) and superstructure, (artistic, religious, and political thinking and culture) is very important.

These two concepts greatly influence later critics. But what importance does Marx have to do with literature? Leitch highlights how a literary reader would ask questions not answered specifically in the text:

What roles do writers, critics, and intellectuals play? Do they illuminate for workers the nature of capitalist exploitation, or do they act at the service of those who already and best understand their true circumstances? Should writers be free to state the social and political facts as they see them, or must the goal of working-class revolution always shape their work—an if so, who sets the limits? (Leitch 649)

To these questions, Marx could reply with the following: “the answers will come only when the contradictions within capitalism produce them” (Leitch 640). Marx truly has changed how we see the world as well as how we interpret art and literature as seen in Marxism.

Benjamin

Benjamin is considered a Marxist critic because of his analysis of the principle of mediation and consciousness. There is a distinction of Marxism versus Marx, the man. Marx is a dialectical materialist, meaning he focuses on history.

The dialectical method occurs when two sides come into confrontation and wrestle with each other, which leads to a new thesis. When a new thesis emerges, another antithesis emerges, too. But Marxists saw the antithesis as consumer culture, and Benjamin believed, “Modern works are reproduced for mass consumption” (Habib 34). In other words, the principle of mediation “establishes relationships between the two levels of Marxist dialectic, between the base and the superstructure, between the relations of production and the work of art” (Richter 1202).

This means the base, or means of production, conditions the superstructure, or art; consequently, art is changing in the current production mode. For Benjamin, there is the possibility of “art for the masses,” the aura, or “spiritual quality, a relic of human attachment to ritual and magic . . . is simultaneously beginning to disappear” (1202–3).

While tradition and aura are smashed under mechanical reproduction, reproducibility is valued instead through exhibition for mass experience. This current production mode changes consciousness or perception of the masses, which result in producing new concepts.

The first concept is the “brush[ing] aside of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius” (1233), which leads to processing data in the Fascist sense. Benjamin views the aestheticization of politics that serves the Fascists negatively.

His second concept focuses on the politicization of art that serves the communists, which marries the capacity of art for analysis and the capacity to meet the broad public in order for the masses to think and do critical analysis of conditions in which they live.

This idea does not fall under a Marxist mode—rather than people rallying together and raising their rakes, people would be expressing themselves. Yet for Benjamin, “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (1244). Additionally, Benjamin considers distraction versus concentration, which reflects on the consciousness of the masses.

Because “the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator,” someone “who concentrates before a work is absorbed by it,” while “the distracted mass absorbs the work of art” (1247). Benjamin claims, “The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one” (1248). Therefore, Benjamin believes consciousness changes because the medium or delivery mechanism changes. This is a Marxist claim: understanding the world is determined by consciousness, which changes through materialism or history.

For example, one consequence of the alienation of labor is the human separation from body; the human then becomes a slave to labor. This reduces man to animal functions, or as Marx explains, “the human becomes the animal” (403). What previously separated the human from the animal was consciousness.

Ultimately, Marx argues, “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (409). Consequently, “the proletarianization of art progressively dehumanizes both participants and spectators” (1203).

Benjamin’s influential ideas shape our view of art—what it means for the masses and what it can mean for us today. We, the viewers of artwork or the readers of a particular text, can determine to be a conscious examiner, not an absent-minded viewer.

Williams

Considering Benjamin’s interpretation of art and the influence of the base and superstructure is helpful in considering Williams’s argument. Williams uses the Marxist theory to see a literary sphere.

Williams sees that culture, like civilization, has a dual sense of achieving and developing. Culture besom a process, or something in flux. Language becomes a tool of productive practices. For Marx, the methods of production focus on gears and factories. But what if language was as productive for as metal or iron or steel? What if language makes things happen?

Language would not work by itself any more than factories work by themselves. Language becomes as much of a tool as a machine is because language does not just mirror reality but becomes a tool for human agency. Williams consider the base, or the means of production and class relationships, as well as the superstructure, or the ideological, including politics, religion, education, and family.

Williams dos not believe that the base and superstructure are homogenous. He sees the mediation between the base and superstructure. The relationship of the base and superstructure is a dynamic one: “We have to revalue ‘superstructure’ towards a related range of cultural practices, and away from a reflected, reproduced or specifically dependent content” as well as “we have to revalue ‘the base’ away from the notion of a fixed economic or technological abstraction, and towards the specific activities of men in real social and economic relationships, contain fundamental contradictions and variations and therefore always in a state of dynamic process” (Williams 1426).

The relationship is more than simple reproduction. This is not just a depersonalized system because we want to include people in this—intension is crucial. How are human decisions influencing the totality. It is not a trapped, soulless system, but rather it is made up of humans.

For Williams, it is as much about the reader as it is about the writer. Conversations written about literature in addition to political interventions are both meant to change the world. The political institution means that you are doing your work to change the world. There is a flux in this influence.

Rules that are so accepted become natural and dominant, even if it is not necessarily how society actually is; this idea introduces hegemony. With hegemony, rules so complete seem inevitable but invisible. Thus, hegemony becomes total. But where is the opposition?

Hegemony is a bunch of ideas. When we think about ideas, we realize that ideas are never wholly dominant, since ideas, like languages, are processes of growth. Throughout various periods, from the Renaissance to the Romantic period, ideas are contested and contrasted.

Thus, we see residual and emergent conflicts emerge. People are included in this process of what is fading and what is emerging, thus intention is crucial to how our human decisions influence the totality that is not trapped to a soulless system.

For instance, Williams writes, “Intention, the notion of intention, restores the key question, or rather the key emphasis” because although “it is true than any society is a complex whole of such practices, it is also true that any society has a specific organization, a specific structure, and that the principles of this organization and structure can be seen as directly related to certain social intentions, intentions by which we define the society” (Williams 1427).

This system is made up of people and human choices. Literature includes the notations of people scribbling upon the margins of dominant cultural context. We continue to see this today not just about ideas but also about media and new forms of art.

For example, film is probably still emergent and now dominant while perhaps reading could be considered residual. People are not writing epic poems but create epic films.

Horkheimer and Adorno

Horkheimer and Adorno suggest that society produces literature often upon consumer demand. Critics, including Adorno, Horkheimer, and Benjamin considered Hegel and Marx “in attempting to revive the ‘negative dialectics’ or negative, revolutionary potential of Hegelian Marxist thought” by opposing “the bourgeois positivism which had risen to predominance in reaction against Hegel’s philosophy, and insisted, following Hegel, that consciousness in all of its cultural modes is active in creating the world” (Habib 34).

Literature becomes dictated by the publishing house and editors rather than literature becoming an instrument to express what the muses have inspired the author to transcribe down for others to read. Literature is a way to reveal realities of a society, through the base and superstructures of a society, as seen in the analysis by Williams.

While Hegel suggests conflict and the form of things helps us learn to understand better, Arnold desires literature to raise society. Horkheimer and Adorno would argue hat literature is a product of society, suggesting the proof of societal existence and influence. Humans become consumers rather than readers of literature.

Horkheimer and Adorno argue,

Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure . . ., but by signals. Any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided (Horkheimer and Adorno 1116).

Literature—both high and low literature—is produced and used to pacify the masses. For example, Horkheimer and Adorno write, “[I]f a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely adapted for a film sound track in the same way as a Tolstoy is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1112).

Instead of realizing the terribleness of their situation, they will be too busy reading or watching or being entertained with whatever consumer product is considered the next big thing.

Foucault

Adorno addresses not multiple but manifest reason. He addresses Modern work that is calculating, spreading technological control toe very aspect of our lives. Similarly, Foucault does the same thing by considering the subtle power influence over everything. Reason does not just control but puts the productivity in power.

Foucault suggests the quest for truth is neither completely disinterested nor an isolated discovery. Truth becomes part of a network, suggesting the encouragement of questions to be asked. The Panopticon, or the all-seeing tower, becomes an important metaphor about discipline and punishment of the invisibility of power to its all-seeing power.

This example of the Panopticon “is the disciplinary form at its most extreme, the model in which are concentrated all the coercive technologies of behavior” (Foucault 1490). When speaking of the establishment of power relations, Foucault writes, “The modeling of the body procedures a knowledge of the individual, the apprenticeship of the techniques incudes modes of behavior and the acquisition of skills in extricable linked with the establishment of power relations” (Foucault 1491).

There is a shift in the basis of power from Marx to Foucault. For Marxists, economics is the foundation that is determinant of everything else in culture. For Foucault, economics has no priority; there is no single discourse exists among human. Therefore, we go from a base and superstructure model to discourse as a basis of everything.

Foucault thought about prisons, sexual activity, schools, religion (including the confessional), medicine, and politics, expanding what could be included in discourse. Literature could become another discourse. Literature does not necessarily become a separate aesthetic realm, for Foucault.

For example, in Nancy Armstrong’s lecture here at Brigham Young University about the bio-politics in Jane Eyre, she provided a Focaultian reading by examining ways the forces teach women to be women, such as through church sermons, but discourses (such as literature) assert certain subjectivity to train gender.

Another example could be seen in Wuthering Heights. In this novel, the reader learns about Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s untamed passions in a straight-laced, Victorian world. This strict society contrasts to a book about passions. Paradoxically, the book does not talk about the encouragement of such behavior but talks about of what we think about being repressed, sexually in this instance, in a particular society.

Therefore, with Foucault’s analysis of discourse, the subject of the novel can fit into the discussion of discourse. It is not just an intellectual field of power that shapes subjectivity. Readers see that literature shapes we are; therefore, we see literature not just as artistic expression or entertainment but also as a social or political work.

Conclusion

Cultural criticism is an exciting way to look at literature and art as a social force. Hegel’s concept of the dialectic has influenced criticism. Of course, Marx and Hegel differed: “Marx was a materialist in the sense that he believed, unlike Hegel, that what drives historical change are the material realities of the economic base of society. . . , rather than the ideological superstructure. . . of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and art that is built upon the economic base” (Richter 1199).

However, both Hegel and Marx believed in dialectical oppositions that occur in society. Marxism and Marx’s theory has been a dialectical relationship: “[Marxism] has always striven to modify, extend, and adapt [Marx’s canon] to changing circumstances rather than treating it as definitive and complete” (Habib 37). Therefore, Marxist critics continue this dialecticism.

Other critics, such as Arnold and Williams, could view evolutions that occur—the change of poetry as the new religion for Arnold and the interchanges that occur between the base and superstructure for Williams.

For Benjamin, Adorno, and Horkheimer, they “saw modern mass culture as regimented and reduced to a commercial dimension; and they saw art as embodying a unique, critical distance for this social and political world” (Habib 34). Foucault’s emphasis on the plurality of discourse could lead to the question: what new discourses could the future hold?

Richter argues, “Marxist theory and the application of Marxist theory out literature have taken a dizzying variety of forms, depending, among other things, on how the literary text is positioned relative to material reality and to ideology” (Richter 1199– 1200).

These cultural criticisms and theories have changed the way readers see the world and consider their lives within the societal structures they are born into. One can wonder what new insights and theories will continue to be influenced by these early theorists.

 

~ Works Cited:

Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Arnold, Matthew. The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Lectures on Fine Art.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Phenomenology of Spirit.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. “Dialectic of Enlightenment.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Williams, Raymond. “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Creative Fiction: “Ekpipto”

He knew that he had fallen. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?[1]

As SMSN[2] waited, chained against the cold stone, he knew that living and pretending as he did among the E.O.[3] had brought about this end. He had been called to save his people, the PRLTRT,[4] from the BRGS.[5] He had fallen in love with a woman, a woman whom he had never met before and would never see again. She was a stranger, but he was a stranger to her country. He was called to search for the books, for the words of Truth. His people would not die in ignorance. The priests would rejoice. SMSN would finally be a hero. But SMSN had failed. He told his secret identity to the woman he loved. She told the E.O. who he was. Now he was to be tortured.

Before he had ever come to this foreign land, he had been warned of what would happen if he would fail. The priests told them that any traitor to the cause of the E.O. would endure intense suffering and extreme torture. He was warned about the process of losing the senses. SMSN now knew what would happen to him in this pit of hell.

And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen.[6]

He had fallen in the land of GZ,[7] the very land he was suppose to destroy. SMSN had failed.

And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.[8]

The fault was all his own. He knew what he had done. It was delicious pain.[9] He could dare to admit his wrongs even here, in the darkest of caves, on the darkest of nights, below the deepest level of hell.[10] He felt like someone or something was watching him.

And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.[11]

This was to be his punishment. His senses that connected him to this world would be taken from him. A creature designed to torture entered the far side of the room. Its neck twitched with excitement. XXX[12] found particular pleasure in the five-senses-removal process. This meticulous process required palpable skills and perceptive style.

First, touch.

Which are after the doctrines and commandments of men, who teach you to touch not, … handle not; all those things which are to perish with the using?[13]

These words seemed to flow through his body seamlessly.

“The priests of YHWH[14] had taught me from childhood,” thought SMSN, “as well as MNH,[15] the male, and MRY,[16] the female, from the time of my birth.”

In an earlier era, MNH and MRY, a heterosexual couple partnered about thirty years before the language revolution,[17] would have been called the father and the mother of SMSN. But in the surge of egalitarianism, all parents, whether heterosexual or homosexual or transsexual, were stripped of any label of father or mother. The names designating roles and responsibilities were ordered to be erased from all records under Appeal 274 of Equality.[18]

Step one was completed. As pain swelled in rushing waves through his body, he dared to look down at his fingertips. The tips of his fingers—all ten—were gone. SMSN clenched his eyes shut, focusing on the words. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.[19]

Second, taste.

SMSN had eaten the forbidden fruit. The snake had been too beautiful, too tempting. The face of SMSN was injected with a numbing solution. He was fully awake and could still feel some pain. However, the cutting of the tongue was significantly less painful than the severing of the fingers below the nail. The numbing solution also disabled his ability to scream. He was silenced completely. He would never again be able to say the name of his lover, DS.[20]

Third, hearing.

If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.[21]

He would never hear the world above. He would never hear the world below. He would never hear the voice of DS again. Alone, he would hear silence. XXX computerized to inject the syringe above and to the side of the cheekbones so no numbing solution would impact the side of the face of SMSN. The ears of SMSN were in full-feeling effect. If SMSN had been able to scream, he would not have been able to hear his own cries.

SMSN focused on the verses that he thought almost mindlessly through the synapsis in his brain. SMSN was to be the chosen one. He was selected to not go to the regular school. MRY had had a vision. She had heard the voice of YHWH. While still a baby, he was smuggled, unbeknown to the E.O. or the system and raised by the priests. Instead of going to L.S.,[22] the priests taught him what other students were not taught. Children in L.S. were shown pictures on a moving screen with images that flashed by. One student was rumored to have asked, “If I don’t remember it happening, then it never happened?” This was the deadliest question. The purpose of the pictures on the screen were to remember what had happened. Most of the images were of footage of before the Crisis, before WWIV. These children were not taught what had happened or why; they were just shown that it had happened. This was real.

After those news programs, students were shown pictures of YHWH and miracles on the ever-glowing, ever-teaching magical screen. They had been saved. They would not be cursed again, like their forefathers had been. They would not be wiped from the face of the earth. The earth had been cleansed by water. The earth had been cleansed by bomb. Now the earth would be cleansed by products. The E.O. were, of course, over the production and selling and selling of the items of pleasure. Large pictures and posters would be spread around the small gathering areas where the people of SMSN would gawk and stare and drool over the newest item of pleasure. The people of SMSN were quite poor but several items of pleasures were especially marketed for them. The richest and the poorest both could enjoy the items of pleasures. Beautiful, smiling women help luscious clothing. Tall, dark men wore bracelets that shined like the sun. Certainly, some of these items of pleasure were not quite at the same quality as these images depicted, but what did it matter. The people of SMSN had been saved on purpose and had every right to enjoy pleasures. No need to think critically. No need to analyze. The E.O. would tell you everything you need to know. They were now the chosen ones.

Of course, SMSN was chosen. But he was also selected. SMSN was taught by the priests the ways of deceit and cunning. He was taught how to fight and how to break, to lie, to cheat, to steal. He grew in strength. Most importantly, the priests of YHWH read SMSN from the S.B.[23] He heard the verses, the words of the YHWH. He was taught by hearing. The priests would force him to memorize, to reiterate, to recite until the words fell from his mouth like mana fell from heaven for the people of MSS.[24] SMSN would not worship the idol; he would rend the earth in half with his might. He would save their people from ignorance.

Yet SMSN was not entirely trusted by the priests because SMSN was not taught how to read. Reading was considered too powerful; reading caused men to think and to reason. Reading, or words specifically, were dangerous. Reading is what had caused the Crisis. It had ended millions of lives. Had not the priests taught SMSN that even MSS could not read the ten commandments as they were written, but rather YHWH had told Moses what to say to the people?

But SMSN yearned to know the real spelling of his name. The one thing children were taught was how to spell their names. Documents, of course, still had to be signed. A few other words could be picked out, but mainly children who grew up to become adults only knew their own name and maybe the name of their partner. He believed learning his real name, his real spelling would be the source of his real identity. Those words that spelt his name would be his Ideal, his Form, his Self. In other words, those words would spell out his true identity. Not the false name he created for himself. Not the name he still called himself, SMSN. But his real, true identity would finally become a reality.

Fourth, smell.

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?[25]

SMSN knew he was no longer whole. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

He had given himself to DS, worshiped her, kissed her feet, and fallen on his knees for her. He had sacrificed, given everything for her. But why? She had lied to him, telling him that she knew what it was like to be an outsider, to be an outcast, to want something more out of life. Together, they would escape this world. Together, they would run away from it all. Together, they would transcend this world by running away to the North Kingdom, an empty land where vagabonds and cannibals were rumored to roam and hunt for human flesh. After their plans they made, SMSN knew he had passed the turning point. There was no going back. He had known that he would tell her everything in the fragrant swallows of the evening’s dimming dawn of darkness. He could never go back now. But he did not know it would end with this.

XXX knew its purpose. Its job was to complete the task. Losing one’s sense of smell was a process. It was the longest step. It was the fourth most painful sort of torture known to humans. It was a simple process: simply wave a precise mixture of the bottles labeled L2, O, L2. XXX was efficient. It did its job. It was calculated to give Subject 24718-JKB a shot of adrenaline at precisely 10.4 seconds after the solution was completely smelled. Subjects were never supposed to go unconscious. Subjects must be awake for the entire process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process.

XXX began, slowly, to shut down. XXX was created to shut down after step four.

SMSN jerked back into consciousness. He was awake but barely. His eyes streamed with tears that he could not brush away. His eyes were the only thing he had left. He could see that XXX was no longer moving. Somehow XXX had shut down, apparently automatically. There was no binary switch for on or off from what SMSN could see with his two eyes.

SMSN sat there for a few moments in the dark. He felt like someone or something was watching him. He was confused. His precious eyes were left for last, but who—or what—would complete the deed? SMSN began to shake harder than ever before. Not knowing what would happen next terrified him the most. He muttered under his breath these words to try to calm his shaking hands and shrinking spirits:

Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.[26]

Almost two hundred years after the bomb, the era of schwas and diphthongs was over. The masses were reduced down to mere signs. A child was assigned one or more consonants to be known by. This revealed the worth of the child. A one-consonant child was worth less than a two-consonant child, etc. Not even YHWH used vowels–only an elect few knew that the BRGS[27] could buy vowels. SMSN, a child worth four consonants, was one of the elect. The rulers of the E.O., could afford vowels.

A man in black descended the stairs. He blended into his surroundings so at first SMSN did not see him. Then another and another and another descended, like demons returning to the thick darkness of a cave. They preferred the blackness where they sought their Truth.

One man with particularly long, black gloves drew a curtain. SMSN had not noticed it before. His eyes strained, but he could not tell if the shadows were talking. They moved and moved slowly, but he could not tell whether their lips moved as well. Hearing nothing and seeing these silhouettes before him were chilling. The dark curtain was drawn and behind it was a simple stage.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.[28]

SMSN had sinned. He knew it. He wanted to confess to these black shadows all he had done, but he could no longer speak. He then realized that these shadows that were humans had come to finish his last act of torture. It would be not merely a physical ending but a psychological ending, he could tell.

The play began. It was a puppet show. Invisible beings moved the strings. A lonely puppet stood in the center of the stage.

Someone had disappeared. The lonely puppet was warned but defied the warning. The villain, an elongated masked puppet, was searching for something, gained information from a letter, and attempted to trick his victim via another letter. However, the lonely puppet intercepted the letter. This letter was worn and torn, scrolling down and around the lonely puppet’s body like a serpent entangling its victim and preparing to attack. Rather than forwarding the letter, the lonely puppet destroyed the letter. He tore the letter, piece by piece. Next, he tossed the fragments of the letter into a burning fire pit that sending shadows to darken the face of SMSN.

After the destruction was complete, the lonely puppet departed into a wilderness on a mission to escape from bondage of society and ensure his freedom. In this wilderness of endless sand, the lonely puppet grew weary, losing strength every haggard step he took. But the lonely puppet stumbled upon a pouch that was full of effervescent water in the middle of this desert. Suddenly, the masked puppet arrived on the scene, having found the lonely puppet. The two puppets dueled. It was impossible to tell from one moment to the next who would win. The lonely puppet stabbed the masked puppet with his paper sword, and when the masked puppet died, the desert vanished.

It had all been an illusion. The masked puppet, a sorcerer and magician, shimmered into a thousand pieces, scattering among the wind. The lonely puppet wandered off, searching for his home, a place he had not returned to for a very long time. He left the wilderness and was back in the city. Chased by little puppet dogs, the lonely puppet arrived at his home safely. But he sat on a chair, alone in his room. No other puppet entered the scene. No solution was offered, no exposure was made, no transfiguration occurred. Neither a wedding nor punishment happened. The lonely puppet just sat alone in the room, unremembered, unwanted, unrecognized in his isolation.

When SMSN had been escorted down the steps into the room of torture, he had seen lines scribbled on the wall. The E.O. were educated men and women. Sometimes lines were seen covered on walls, although these held no meaning for him. The guard recited the first line, and these words now echoed in the mind of SMSN:

In recognizing Oedipus or Medea in ourselves, we recognize that what can happen to that sort of person can happen to us as well, because we have just come to recognize that we ourselves that sort of person—that we are, to that extent, Oedipus or Medea ourselves.[29]

Who was this Oedipus? This Medea? He yearned to scream it out loud. Yet no one could answer his question now. Right before the guard and SMSN entered the room of torture, the guard had recited another quote:

Incidents of drama itself . . . . teaches the audience something important about life and fate, even if, as I believe, it is not clear whether we can say in general terms what this lesson is or, indeed, whether there is a single lesson that tragedy teaches beyond expanding our sense of factors that can affect the shape of our life. Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude.[30]

The thoughts of SMSN trailed now as he watched the lonely puppet on the stage. SMSN had not and did not understand these words. He wondered if the play was supposed to mean something to him. He did not know whether the drama was meant to influence his emotions in some way or if it was some strange set of motions to create confusion for himself. Or, he wondered, if the play was in some way an original creation set out for its own purpose of merely existing just as he was created for the mere usage of being in existence. Could the plot merely be attempting to internalize resolution of its tragic nature rather than considering his response as the sole audience member? Did the invisible puppet master not care that he was present—he still existed?

After that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light.[31]

The play was coming near the close; SMSN could sense it. He would lose his sight as soon as the curtain was lowered on the stage. The madness would finally finish.

The lonely puppet climbed a fabricated staircase, winding up and up and up. He reached a tall building with many windows that glowed of deceitful warmness, ricocheting more shadows in all directions. After the lonely puppet climbed the stars, he reached the top of the building. He stood, arms stretched out to the heavens. The stars–tiny, flickering lights surrounded in the darkness–blinked on and off, on and off.

And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.[32]

With his arms still outstretched, the lonely puppet took a step off the building and fell. The curtain closed. SMSN shook with a terrible force.

The E.O. had an approved list of teaching material, otherwise coded as DAGON,[33] mainly of old television programs or news reports, or so the rumor had been spread when SMSN was still in L.S. The S.B. was one on the approved list. It was used to calm the people. He had been on an errand of truth, a quest for the ideal, but it soon became a search for the true name of SMSN. He yearned to know his true identity. How was his name suppose to be? What would it look like? What would it feel, look like written out? SMSN’s original quest was to search for the books that were not on that list made by the E.O. To find out the names, the real names, of titles that had been considered improper. The purpose of him entering GZ was to save his people. The source of truth, the source of reality was to be found in the list of books that were forbidden.

The center of the city in GZ was a giant orb on top of a high building, stretching into the sky. This orb sent silent vibrations through the city. At high-speed velocities, these vibrations could detect the code in the hair and sometimes even the clothing of the PRLTRT versus BRGS. SMSN did not completely comprehend how this machine worked, but its power rested purely on the exterior, detecting any unwarranted visitors to the city of the elect.

The priests had developed a way to rewire the code encrypted into the hair of SMSN. It was done through high-tech software that the priests had stolen and had been working on for years before SMSN was born. The orb would be unable to detect the false code signaling the identity of SMSN. SMSN was to become part of the BRGS. The only thing that would give away his identity would be a reversal of the code in his hair. The priests had given SMSN fresh clothes, which were also stolen from BRGS.

But SMSN became sidetracked from his quest. While hiding among the E.O. in GZ, SMSN had taken upon him the name of ISH,[34] but when SMSN met DS, she made him feel emotions he had not dreamt were possible of in the land of his people, where women were nothing compared to the greatness of DS. She had told him that she would tell him his true name if he would but reveal his consonants. But their love had been a false one. When he had told her all, she had betrayed him while he still slept in her arms. She was to reveal his secrecy, and in the dead of night, men, spying in their secret eyes hidden about the room, hanging from ceilings and tucked under tiles,[35] had come while he was still asleep, injecting him with a solution so he would remain asleep and innocuous. His false DS,[36] his idol, had betrayed him. He had sold his mess of pottage; she had cut his hair.

She took his hair to the E.O., who would soon discover the secret of the priests’ endeavors to hide the identity of SMSN. Probably not very long after the punishment of SMSN would be completed, the priests would be punished, as well. They had been warned. They had been found wanting. They would receive their just rewards. The wicked would not prevail. E.O. would rule without conflict. They would continue to sell their gizmos and gadgets, their toys and their entertainments for the pleasure of the PRLTRT. One day, no one else would resist. The minds of the PRLTRT would be too absorbed by the toys of the E.O. No long would the people of SMSN question the control of the E.O. The PRLTRT would become slaves to their passions rather than defenders of their rights.

Fifth, sight.

SMSN shuddered, violently and forcefully, in the fiercest, sharpest of pain. He never learnt if he had dreamt in the depths of his unconsciousness after losing his sense of smell or had actually seen the haunting vision in reality. He was left in darkness, never to see his Form written in letters and consonants.

All that remained were mere mirrored memories upon the glassy smear of his mind.

 

~ Footnotes:

[1] Genesis 4:6

[2] Pronounced Samson, according to the section of pronunciation guide in E.O.’s New Order: An Abbreviated Dictionary of Shortened Language. After the bomb destroyed approximately 79.4% of the earth’s population, the E.O. (Elite Order), or previous rulers that survived and about .2% of the remaining population, gathered together to establish a united language and simply terms to communicate completely, concisely, compliantly, and clearly. Only 1.93% could read this new, condensed dictionary.

[3]Acronym, using only vowels, Elite Order

[4] Acronym, using only vowels, Proletariat

[5] Acronym, using only vowels, Bourgeoisie

[6] Isaiah 21:9

[7] Pronounced Gaza, a land currently covering the Midwest of the United States of America.

[8] Revelation 14:8

[9] SMSN could possibly be referring to Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. A man, who falls in love with a prostitute, rejects the reality of her occupation present before him to focus on the qualities that he loves. This eventually brings about their separation, which enhances the tragedy that will undeniably happen at the end of the opera with the prostitute’s death.

[10] Possibly in reference to Dante’s Inferno

[11]Deuteronomy 4:28

[12] Pronounced, Extermination Version 30. This is in reference to its model number.

[13] Colossians 2:21–22.

[14] “The tetragrammaton (from Greek τετραγράμματον, meaning “four letters”) is the Hebrew theonym יהוה, commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH. It is one of the names of the God of Israel used in the Hebrew Bible.”

[15] Pronounced Manoah

[16] Pronounced Mary. Records show that there was a high spike in partners selecting this name for their child around this time. Mary was approximately 15 when she gave birth to her first son, Samson.

[17] After the Bomb: A new order of time was established.

[18] The Appeals of Equality came into effect shortly approximately seventy-eight years before the bomb occurred.

[19] Genesis 2:17

[20] Pronounced Dios. Believed by some to be the word for gods in the forgotten romantic language, Spanish. This became a popular first name among the selection of daughters by the E.O., who were not commanded to multiple and replenish the earth.

[21] Mark 4:23

[22] Acronym using consonants, Learning Suite. Education did not have the status of using vowels in its abbreviation. L.S. years would be the years generally associated with elementary school in the late twentieth to early twenty-first century. Therefore, this would be about kindergarten through fifth- or sixth-grade. However, in the years following the bomb, the E.O. declared that children would go to school from age 4–5 until puberty, for “the multiplying and replenishing of the earth” as taught in the S.B. (see footnote 21). Children were then assigned partners, based on preferred sexual orientation; therefore, children had the option of selecting a homosexual or heterosexual relationship under Appeal 274 of Equality, but homosexual partners were given children from other parents who had died or were considered unfit. Suite is in reference to the fact that children were sent away from school, such as with boarding schools in the United Kingdom and other European countries.

[23] Acronym using consonants, Select Bible. Even high literature did not have the status of using vowels in abbreviation. Around 9 A.B., the E.O. created a committee called the R.S. This committee did not have the status of using vowels.

[24] Pronounced Moses

[25] 1 Corinthians 12:17

[26]2 Corinthians 8:21

[27] Pronounced Bourgeoisie, an antiquated French term that persisted approximately 112 years after the bomb. Some believe that this is equated with the prevalent survival rate of the French, who had retreated into Switzerland before the explosion. Some critics would argue the French contributed heavily to the E.O.’s New Order: An Abbreviated Dictionary of Shortened Language, while others would say that their prevalence is quite less obvious.

[28] Romans 5:12

[29] Believed to have been written by Alexander Nehamas.

[30] Ibid

[31] Mark 13:23

[32] Mark 13:24

[33] Judges 16:23 “Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice”

[34] Pronounced Isaiah. Believed by some to be a prophet in ancient times.

[35] Perhaps this is in reference to hidden cameras or a sort of unknown code conveying images from area 1 to area 2 in order for information to be revealed about something occurring in area 1.

[36] Upon further research in recent years, Dios is believed to have been an agent for the E.O. Some critics, however, argue about her role. Some wonder whether she could have been a double agent. Others argue about what role could she have played.

 

~ Some Explanation:

Ekpipto, as used here in the title, in Greek means the following: “to fall, to perish, to fall powerless, to fall … of the divine promise of salvation.” This short story is about the fall of a man, ultimately in the quest for Truth. This dystopian/philosophical/1982/The Tree of Life/the gloss of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”/biblical/YA novel-esque (Unwind specifically) short story is weird and … well, just straight-up weird.

But it incorporates ideas of Saussure (the idea of signs, the use of language/names, and the importance that has in this society), Baudrillard (the use of television for education and the hyperreality; whether SMSN dreamed or if it was reality), Plato (the cave/shadows/forms, searching for the truth/ideal, and the idea of preferring spoken above written language), and even Aristotle (the idea of the form of drama in addition to criticism by Nehamas).

There is also irony in the sense of the futurist critic, writing biasedly throughout in the margins, looking back at a earlier point in the future (from our perspective as the reader), as if it is a piece of art to critique; perhaps this is in reference to Wilde and the idea of a critic being more important than the art itself and the emphasis on creating, in fact constantly creating to find the new, rather than the actually reaching the certain point of the said-end creation.

Additionally, Nietzsche could perhaps be seen in this short story; the quote “God is dead” could have popped up in the dialogue at any point, and the idea of society constructing truths, which are actually lies, in order to create structure is prevalent throughout the story.

Of course, the Platonic forms is invariably important for consideration, but this piece becomes even more interesting when Foucaultian concepts of power play and a new type of Panopticon comes into the picture. The proletariat and bourgeoisie of Marx are presented in the different levels of this future society.

Additionally, this story presents the fact that consumerism that is still prevalent and the culture industry is still going strong—even in the future (poor Adorno and Horkheimer would be rolling in their graves). Perhaps the desire to obtain poetry becomes a type of religious quest for SMSN—hence, harkening to the theory of Arnold.

Bias-Free Writing

Bias-Free Writing

Have you ever wondered how to write without a gender bias?

Why use inclusive language?

Why avoid the generic he or all-encompasing men?

Writing without bias is important. The writer does not want to offend the reader or audience and wants to included all. Inclusive language engages both male and female readers.

But how can writers avoid gender bias in their writing?

The Chicago Manual of Style explains nine helpful techniques of how to achieve gender neutrality in writing. One option may not fix all problems when writing so be open to trying other tips below. Slight changes in meaning are possible when writing so be prepared to edit and rewrite. The nine techniques include the following:

1. “Omit the pronoun: the programmer should update the records when data is transferred to her by the head office becomes the programmer should update the records when data is transferred by the head office.

2. Repeat the noun: a writer should be careful not to needlessly antagonize readers, because her credibility will suffer becomes a writer should be careful not to needlessly antagonize readers, because the writer’s credibility will suffer.
3. Use a plural antecedent: a contestant must conduct himself with dignity at all times becomes contestants must conduct themselves with dignity at all times.

4. Use an article instead of a personal pronoun: a student accused of cheating must actively waive his right to have his guidance counselor present becomes a student accused of cheating must actively waive the right to have a guidance counselor present.

5. Use the neutral singular pronoun one: an actor in New York is likely to earn more than he is in Paducahbecomes an actor in New York is likely to earn more than one in Paducah.

6. Use the relative pronoun who (works best when it replaces a personal pronoun that follows if):employers presume that if an applicant can’t write well, he won’t be a good employee becomes employers presume that an applicant who can’t write well won’t be a good employee.

7. Use the imperative mood: a lifeguard must keep a close watch over children while he is monitoring the pool becomes keep a close watch over children while monitoring the pool.

8. Use he or she (sparingly): if a complainant is not satisfied with the board’s decision, then he can ask for a rehearing becomes if a complainant is not satisfied with the board’s decision, then he or she can ask for a rehearing.

9. Revise the clause: a person who decides not to admit he lied will be considered honest until someone exposes his lie becomes a person who denies lying will be considered honest until the lie is exposed.”

See more at: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/ch05/ch05_sec225.html

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Photo Cred: C.A.H.