Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Circular Sublime

I had mentioned previously that Emily Dickinson has a tendency to contradict her own portrayals of the sublime.  This is not unexpected.  The sublime is by its very nature supposed to be something that is incomprehensible and by writing (or using any other art) about it we attempt to capture what cannot be captured.  Perhaps the most astonishing thing is how often artists like Dickinson succeed.

I wanted to continue my exploration of the sublime in Dickinson's Poetry and in modern media by comparing it to the movie Contact, one of the few movies that I might argue is better than its book.  The opening sequence of the movie starts looking at the Earth with, what was at the time of the movies production, modern music.  Then the scene leaves the Earth behind going out through the solar system past the planets and then shows the Oort cloud and then Alpha Centauri, finally heading out of the Milky Way, and then many many galaxies, all the while going backwards in time through radio messages until it becomes silence.  Then all of that becomes a reflection in the eye of the main character as a girl.

I probably wouldn't even have thought about the importance of the soundtrack, other than for their value as a chronological marker if I hadn't currently been reading Aesthetics of Film as part of my research for this topic.  One of the subjects that it mentioned is most overlooked when doing an analysis of film is sound, so I decided to pay special attention to it.  At this point it is probably best to let you see the clip, if you want to do your own on-the-fly examination of how it makes you feel, feel free.

The overall impression that this clip portrays is one of the vastness of space and how small the world is in it.  Long before you leave even our solar system, Earth has vanished from view, and the sun in all of its glory fades away.  To match this, the remaining human element of our radio signals fades away into silence, again showing all that is human has no place out in space.  But then, after all has become just space, a hint of sound starts up again and the scene becomes a reflection in an eye.  By doing this it returns us solidly to the realm of Earth and earthly care, and in fact in the movie we become swept away in the affairs of the characters immediately after.  This also forms a cycle, it leaves earth and then returns.  And by returning so directly to the eye of a human being, it reminds us that we are watching a human construction, and perhaps, even argues that all the grand creation that we have seen up to this point has no meaning without mankind.

To illustrate a similar point in one of Emily Dickinson's poetry you can read:

The Life we have is very great.
The Life that we shall see
Surpasses it, we know, because
It is Infinity.
But when all Space has been beheld
And all Dominion shown
The smallest Human Heart's extent
Reduces it to none.

Notice that the sublimes of the human, life/time, and space are all expressed quickly in this piece.  The sublime which is supposed to be incomprehensibly large is compared to other sublime and one is subjugated to the other.  She not only has a counter-sublime in her matter of fact description of the sublime, but also in making the sublime have a size to compare.  Dickinson, like the scene from Contact, is argues that all of space and life only has meaning in the context of how it is human.

I had intended to say more about a later scene in Contact, but this article is getting a bit long, so I'll save it for later.

Feel free to comment or offer suggestions.

Andrew Morris

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Emily Dickinson as the Precursor to the Dark Sublime

I was just reading from Emily Dickinson and the Modern Consciousness which was saying that Emily Dickinson saw the abyss and horror that preoccupy modern thought and indeed was the first one.  Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a classic later example of something that explicitly explores this subject as it explores the how far human beings are capable of going into the darkness.  The savagery in the minds of the British after they have succumbed to the savagery of Africa is presented as worst than the original darkness.  (The Heart of Darkness may indeed be something that was once light and has become dark.)  This idea of society overall falling into darkness, or at least having something missing is a classic idea in modern thought, but was not explicitly discussed in the time of Emily Dickinson.  Emily Dickinson writes about this in poems like this one:

We learned the Whole of Love—
The Alphabet—the Words—
A Chapter—then the mighty Book—
Then—Revelation closed—

But in Each Other's eyes
An Ignorance beheld—
Diviner than the Childhood's—
And each to each, a Child—

Attempted to expound
What Neither—understood—
Alas, that Wisdom is so large—
And Truth—so manifold!

Where religion has given way to some new way of looking at the world after "Revelation closed."

While it is not clearly mentioned in the book, this is also a form of the sublime.  The sublime in this case is something so empty or dark that it cannot be described.  In this poem that emptiness is mentioned in the ignorance in their eyes.

The Form of our Blog Projects

OK, so I have been thinking a lot about form and how it pertains to our projects.

Since we are each dealing with relatively complicated subjects and our audiences in a blog are different than in a standard academic setting, I was wondering if I should alter the form of my presentation.  Within a standard academic work you make the assumption that the audience have read everything that you have, they know about the material and you pretty much just dive right into your project.  A blog is not quite like this.  Due to this, perhaps we should make our blogs more of an educational experience easing our reader into our given topic more gently, being sure to define new terms and make the overall information easier to digest.

Anyone else think that this is a good idea, or have any other ideas on how they think the presentation should be done?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Getting better all the ti-i-ime...

No idea why I decided to label the title with a beatles song, it just felt right. Thanks for the comments everyone.

Ok, so the sublime has pretty much taken over my project on Emily Dickinson, as well as possibly the idea of a counter sublime. I.E. the idea that something is grand beyond description/comprehension is the sublime, the counter sublime is something within the experience that counter acts that very impression, or makes it smaller, comprehensible, etc...

So those are usually easy to find in Dickinson's writings, but I was wondering if anyone had examples from movies and especially from Youtube of something that is sublime, but counters itself.

Notice this picture, definitely a sublime thing:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Emily Dickinson Research Trends

Yay for research, which feels like all I have been doing for the last few days. So I have been looking at the various ways in which Emily Dickinson is analyzed looking for how to compare it properly with video. As I have been doing so I have wondered if I should include the sublime into my paper, because I have seen it often in her poetry and in the criticism. However, I don’t want to trample on someone else’s toes, because I know that someone else is already writing on the digital sublime (you know who you are). However, I almost feel that the sublime is easier to capture or see in the video form, we can express in images what is almost impossible to express elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Literally a Literature Blog, Figuratively Speaking

This blog is the beginning of a few random things converging. One I need to make it for class, so it has eminent domain as far as reasons, but I had also considered commenting on the large amount of books that I go through each year, most of it Science Fiction and Fantasy. So hope to see more of each later. In the mean time I will be starting in on my posts for class.

What am I doing for class?
-Well, I am writing down my writing process, writing about writing, a very academic pursuit to be sure.

-So for the moment lets talk about my upcoming paper on Emily Dickinson. I will be writing about how Emily Dickinson pertains to the "New Media" blogs, youtube, etc... I am thinking that Emily Dickinson and the landscape of the mind go well with some of the music videos, etc... I am currently in pursuit of making this go a little further, so next stop, library.