Friday, June 25, 2010

New Beginnings

I finally got my cooking blog started

Obviously I no longer need to continue this blog for grading purposes, but I feel that I ought to continue exploring Emily Dickinson and modern media, though perhaps less formally.  To that end I have found two videos that are musical interpretations of Emily Dickinson's "Hope is the thing with feathers:"

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

I have been doing some further reading on Emily Dickinson, and have recently looked at a book called The Music of Emily Dickinson's Poems and Letters.  Through much of the book Carolyn Lindley Cooley, the author, explores how music both effected and is reflected in Emily Dickinson's poetry.  She also has a section on musical adaptations of her poetry, and even in the 70s when the book was written there were several thousand musical adaptations, and we may safely assume that that number has increased significantly.  So let us get on to some examples:

And here is one more:

You can notice immediately how different the styles are.  You can also examine musicality within the poem itself.  It is in alternating tetrameter and trimeter (8,6), which is a metrical rhythm common to at least two musical forms, hymns and ballads.  And, as we saw it lends itself very well to music.

A.J. Morris

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Conventional Research Paper Versus Blog

General Feelings
Overall I think that a blog format allows you to introduce media that it would be difficult to provide in a research paper.  You might be able to cite a video and tell where to find it in a traditional research paper, but if you are doing research on something that is media heavy it is going to become cumbersome very quickly.

However, there is an advantage to focus when you are writing a traditional paper.  When you write a paper you have the reasonable expectation of the reader reading through the entire piece and seeing how all of it connects directly, as do you.  A blog is more fragmented, meaning that it is more difficult to complete or even see a single unifying argument that links everything together.  There is, however, the advantage of being able to focus on a very specific topic, or even to have a more gradual introduction of each topic through an epigraph.

Personal Experience
If you are a paranoid student like me, having a less set form is both a curse and a blessing.  You do not have to worry as much about staying completely on topic, a blog lets you explore facets of your paper that are not necessarily directly relevant.  A blog also allows you to tie in personal experience to provide perspective to your reader.  It also means that you constantly worry whether you have done enough, if the format is correct, you worry about fulfilling criterion even though you are not entirely sure what they are yet. 

However, there is some difficulty in not being somewhat fragmented as a class.  The internet is constantly changing, that means for any class that approaches writing in this way it will be by necessity a more dynamic class than we are used to.  This is good and bad.  We can imagine an education system in the future that is constantly dynamic to imitate the real world, but then do we really focus properly on what we need to learn.  I don't have an answer to this problem, but it will likely be something that we will have to deal with more in the future. 

I did feel that this class was a better preparation for the real world, and wonder if there should be a generally required class that focuses on using the internet for research, socializing, blogging, etc...

For doing this class in the future, I do feel that the blog should be introduced on day one, especially if it is spring or summer.  We will also want a somewhat more explicit set of criterion for how the blogs are to be written, though if it is too rigid we might as well be writing a formal paper.  I think that is what I am seeing most; there needs to be a balance of freedom that the blog environment provides and the structure of a class and scholarly research.  I think that we should also start contacting people about our blog as soon as we have a somewhat set target for the blog.  We waited until it was a bit late to emphasize it in the semester and it should be done earlier.

However, let me be the first to say that even though I have a hard time with social media, etc..., that I thoroughly enjoyed this approach to our class.  I think that this type of class should definitely continue into the future, just with a little bit more definition (Yes yes, I know, we were a pilot group).

Andrew Morris

(Image came from the

The Tulgey Wood: Krista's Blog

I will only be examining elements where I felt that Krista did an exceptional job in her Tulgey Wood Blog, or there needs to be improvement.

Overall the focus is good, however, there are a few posts in which she talks about the dangers of the internet and doesn't tie them back to her central theme of Peter Pan, but since she is discussing the dangers of the internet they are still mostly on focus with the idea of Peter Pan being a good analogy for the dangers of the internet.

Krista's main pages are directly in series to each other, and she does have a page linking them together, as well as a few discussions that she had had previously, however, I think a head page in which she showed the process of the her research, or at least what each of the blogs in the thinking process had been about that would have been helpful.

I don't see any explicit reference to how she attempted to get people outside of our class to participate in her blog, though we do get quite a bit of our class commenting and interacting.  I am sure that she made attempts to contact people in the outside world, I just wish that she had talked about that  a little more.

Krista does a very good job in her analysis.  She relates the issues of Peter Pan very well with the dangers of the internet and it is very obvious that she had put a lot of thought into it to get a clearly structured analysis.

I think we all forgot to appropriately cite where we got our images from.  While not necessarily a problem as our blogs are noncommercial and most people will not mind, for our next class, you should probably focus a little more on reminding people to cite where they got their images from.  The images overall were well relevant, but I thought that some of them that were just placed in the center of the post should have been formatted to have the text go around them to help maintain the flow of the post.

I thought that the side panel could have been added too.  I think it is very spare.  By having some of the side options fleshed out a little more it would make the sire seem less sparse.  (The fish are great, though, and for some reason fascinating to watch.) 

Krista did a great job of fleshing out her content.  Anyone who was reading her blog would feel more comfortable with the subject afterward, and she has provided quite a bit of good research to get them further down the road if they wished.

Overall, Krista did a great job of placing research into a blog setting.  Way to go Krista!

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

It seemed somewhat apropos that one of my favorite stories has a perfect title for my ending piece.  Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, by Joyce Carol Oates is a great story I suggest you read it.  It is just downright disturbing, and it is definitely somewhat sublime.  I, at least, find that I understand the the main characters action's on some instinctual level and can find no rational reason for them, this disparity in my mind produces all sorts of strange emotional responses.

Where Have You Been?

The Landscape of the Mind and Emily Dickinson

This blog originally started on the subject of the Emily Dickinson and the Landscape of the Mind, which admittedly is a wonderful topic.  I hope to come back to it at sometime in the future, because internal landscapes bear an innate characteristic of the sublime, they are like our ideas and thoughts, we can never seem to get them completely across to other people.  (Notice that the divide between people is obliquely stated in the word across.  If you are trying to get your ideas across, you are noting the divide between you.  You are trying to cross the gap that you see between you.)  I am completely aware of this because I have no talent at most forms of art and so little outlet for the images that I see in my head.  I am sure that we all have some element of this problem of communication.  I have a few ideas for what I might do with this in the future, but we will get to that in the next section.  One of my classmates, Neal, actually did his blog on landscape, and it merits further reading if you are interested.

New Media as a Medium of Intellectual Exchange

I also wanted to to incorporate new media. This at least I was able to do.  I actually throughly enjoyed being able to create a more interactive experience with my reader.  One of the great benefits of blogging is the ability to add new content.  I think I seized upon this idea almost immediately, this is most likely because I love imagery almost more than anything else in a text and the ability to show my audience even more directly what I mean is a glorious opportunity.  There are also new mediums of communication that we can use and that we as a class used to some extent, such as Diigo, commenting on each others blog, and I suspect that most of us emailed those we tried to get involved in our projects, though commenting on the blogs of others can sometimes also get them to respond.  There is a great little article on the effects of New Media on the Old Media that I pulled the picture to the right from.  If you look at it the end of the article it might give you a sublime experience.

 The Sublime, In the Beginning...

 I actually switched from the idea of Emily Dickinson and the Landscape of the Mind to the sublime after I started doing research.  I was no doubt somewhat inspired by the project of one of my peers, Katherine, who has done her project on the perception of the sublime in the Digital Age, as well as simply the sublime nature of the internet as an accomplishment, you should read more about it.

I found that abundance of the sublime in her writing to be incredible until...  I think it hit me that the sublime just is a part of the human experience.  We as human beings cannot get away from it as long as we have a finite perspective.  At first I thought it would be more difficult to find depictions of the sublime in popular media, and while it certainly does take time, usually I will have a movie or two that I want a clip from and the hardest part is finding that exact clip.  Sometimes I find something else that I like as much or more as what I was looking for in the first place.  My point, that the sublime is everywhere, and that I think is what I have taken the most out of this experience.  However, I think I need to keep going.

I explored a few ideas on my way to actually discussing my topic in a more argumentative way.  I explored, for example, the counter sublime, and the dark sublime.  Both of these altered how I looked at the sublime later.  The counter sublime, which is the attempt to make the sublime understandable, is inherently a paradox.  If you can make someone understand something then is it really sublime anymore?  However, we as humans cannot help but try to explain, and sometimes we will even manage to convey the sublime.  Most of the time, though, we find something that makes us feel the sublime and try to show that same thing to others.  I have kept this idea in mind through out my project and it has made me more aware of the method by which we try to convey the sublime.  The dark sublime did not enter as much into my discussion, though it was helpful to know how far Emily Dickinson went into the range of the human sublime.

Analysis and Transfiguration

This reference is probably one that noone will get, but I am referring to a lovely musical piece called Adagio and Trasfiguration, by Elliot Goldenthal.  I am not sure how to load a piece of music or I would do so here.  However, suffice it to say that music often is a sublime experience to me, with my skin getting goosebumps that rise from my arms and I get sensation of cold that goes up my entire body.

And here my project also gors through a transfiguration, which is. "A marked change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis." -  I can also hope that it meets the second definition, a "change that glorifies or exalts," but time will tell.  This sections main movements are mainly composed of contrast and exploration of aspects of the sublime.  Usually I examined a particular element of the sublime and showed its presence in both modern media examples and in Emily Dickinson's poetry.  As aspect of the sublime is something like faith, which I explored in relation to the conversion in Contact and Emily Dickinson's "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —"  Overall I am fairly satisfied with where I have gone in this blog and have stayed mostly on track, though there have been some minor diversions into other things like the Emily Dickinson conference (which I still think was a good idea, maybe someone else will be able to tell me how it goes).

 Where Are You Going?

Potential for Landscape in the future.

I have a few examples of landscape that I think would work well for the sublime and for internal landscapes.  These are two depictions of the afterworld.  One is What Dreams May Come, which is in reference to Shakespeare's Hamlet "To be or not to be" soliloquy.  This is actually very relevant to the story as the story is about what happens after death, and Hamlet's contemplation of suicide is also relevant.  I would also like to take a look at the landscape in The Lovely Bones.  Both of these films have the landscape as a changing and very dynamic player in its own right.  I would also like to look at dreamscapes, which appear in a number of films, though I think that the Youtube video "Her Morning Elegance" would be one especially appropriate example.  This exploration could become another whole subject in itself. 
Upholding the Status Quo 

One option is simply to continue to do what I have already been doing so far.  Emily Dickinson's poetry is vast and I am not likely to run out anytime soon.  The gamut of human emotion and experience is also vast, just look at how many books have been written, the realization of how vast human experience is can be a sublime experience.  If you wanted to live one day in the life of everyone else, assuming there are six billion people it would take almost 16.5 million years.  There is still much to do with this subject.

Distilling the Sublime 

It hit me when I was doing my blog about zombies and sickness, that we exaggerate human emotion in modern media, especially video.  Disaster movies are another great example.  We can see the peaks of human emotion in a simple drama, but there is a part of us that craves something beyond.  We desire the exceptional and the unimaginable.  And movies deliver this to us, they give us what we are looking for.  I think that this might be a worthy topic of discussion for the future.  

The End 

And just because I can, I also want to include a picture from wordle of my project so far.  I am even going to post this first and then create the wordle as a full summary of my project.  It has been wonderful, I might even can it sublime, to share with you.  I hope to continue in the future.

Andrew Morris 

Reaching Out

Attempting to communicate is an integral part of our experience.  We are born, grow, and die, never quite saying what we want to say.  Our language is powerful and astonishing for its range of possibilities.  That being said, we still feel its inadequacies sharply.  Language is in many ways a central part of the sublime, because language is insufficient to communicate what we feel, including the sublime.  Language is also one of the ways we conceptualize the world.  I have had the experience of both attempting to remember something and not finding it (Tip of the Tongue Syndrome - Notice that we created an expression to tell what this feeling is) as well as just finding that I had no word for what I wanted to say.

Language is almost a sublime experience in itself.  Language is ever expanding and there are more words in our language than I will ever know.  I have also tried to learn other languages and there are definitely some sublime moments when you see all the facets of the language spread out before you and realize that language is far more complex than you had realized.  Language, even all the standard languages for speaking on earth are still insufficient.  If we really tried we could maybe create a language that would tell more, combining posture, sign language, and intonation as well as words to add emotional and social value to our speech.  I have had the experience of emotion communicating more through music than through language, but it is harder to communicate ideas with music.  This actually makes me think of Swift's Gulliver's Travels which I have read for one of my classes.  In Laputa one of the scientists is trying to have people communicate with objects instead of words, and while the idea is ridiculous there are no doubt advantages to that form of communication as well.  I have been known to draw examples both on paper and from other objects in order to communicate.

I have been discussing communication because of my own attempts to communicate lately.  I have been sending out emails to various Emily Dickinson scholars, attempting to get them to comment on my blog, as yet I have no responses.  If you too would like to attempt communication, I recommend examining the scholars registry at EDIS (Emily Dickinson International Society).  The registry provides information on each of the scholars, including a way to contact them, when you click on their names.  Also, EDIS is hosting a conference at Oxford in August, and they have a number of speakers listed who are not on their registry, so I recommend attempting to connect with them as well, especially if they will be discussing a subject that you are interested in.

To be fair I have only communicated with them in the last week, and most are probably busy.  I have also been considering the issue of much of the scholarly world's feelings about new media; it is possible that many of them are simply not interested.  So I will continue to hope for a big response from someone who is in the field.

Andrew Morris

This article is part of a continuing theme on Emily Dickinson, modern media, and the sublime, if you would like to know more read here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cohesion in Purpose

It has come to my attention that my blogs do not reflect back to my central argument as much as they could.  This lack of cohesion is something that cannot be completely overcome due both to the episodic nature of the blog as a genre,as well as the more exploratory nature of this approach to an essay, however, I want to make it as cohesive as possible.  To that end I want to explore what conclusions and arguments can be found in where I have already gone.

First I think we should start with something fairly simple like grouping together subjects by emotional content.  First we have the dark sublime.  I have discussed it previously but I will restate it here.  It is, most simply, the darkness that we see inside ourselves magnified, which I discuss briefly here.  It pairs well with the sentiments of terror and awe of nature that Edmund Burke discusses in the early approach to the sublime that I covered here.  I also have discussed sickness (and zombies) and the precipice that sickness places you upon, confronting your own mortality here.  These would all be what I would call dark emotions.  Not necessarily bad emotions: self reflection after sickness, fear and respect of nature, and awareness of the potential darkness of the human soul are healthy conditions for feeling.

We also have the positive emotions.  We have love in Avatar, as well as a host of other traits.  We also have our view of mankind and emotion in relation to eternity (not sure this really counts as positive emotion) which I discussed in relation to Contact.  I have also discussed faith, conversion, and religion in Contact in relation to the sublime experience.

What we can get out of this separation is first a small range of the human experience and emotion.  I think that we can also argue that human emotion and experience has the power to be overwhelming and indeed sublime in any emotional form.  We are capable of experiencing love, hate, grief, etc... to a degree that we cannot express.  However, we have looked at a number of different modern examples of the sublime each very different.  One of my classmates said that aestheticism and the sublime are considered to be dead in literature analysis.  However, as long as it is this obvious that it continues to be a part of human emotion, how can we abandon it as a valid approach?  What I find in the classic works of Emily Dickinson is more important because I can also find it in the modern works of art.  My brother periodically asks my jokingly, "Who cares about Emily Dickinson?"  If what was in Emily Dickinson was not relevant towards our current emotions today, then we could easily say that in full truth.  So, why does Emily Dickinson matter, because all our emotions as humans continue to be relevant.  Emily Dickinson was a recluse who still felt the full range of human emotions, from the view of her house she showed what we all feel.

This article is part of a continuing theme on Emily Dickinson, modern media, and the sublime, if you would like to know more read here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Terror and Awe - A Return to the Early Sublime

WHATEVER is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.
--Edmund Burke (1729–1797)

I went camping over some of the weekend with two of my brothers, Scott and John, as well as John's son, John.  This weekend was not an especially good one for camping, it rained and rained etc...  It did however, cause me to look at the beauty of the mists over the mountains, and the clouds, and the valley stretched out below.  In many aspects it returned me to some of the early historical aspects of the sublime.  The sublime was seen as a kind of terrible awe, usually in relation to nature.  While I do not claim that my camping trip was really enough to fill me with horror or pain, it did cause me to think about how we use it in our culture.

The disaster movie takes this terrible awe and makes it the center of the action.  Any number of scenes in a disaster movie may not even show the characters at all.  Instead they are filled with destruction and awe, and often they are nature scenes where nature's power has become overwhelming.  In the 18th century when this idea of the sublime as a terrible force, or rather a transcendent experience as the result of terror, nature was coming into the fore in preparation for the Romantic Period.  However, the sublime tends to be exaggerated in modern media, so that we get the zombie movie which I discussed previously.

-Spoiler Alert- Movie Knowing

We also get movies like Knowing.  Knowing, while somewhat odd in its treatment of aliens and biblical allusions is actually a good example of the disaster movie.  We have the warning signs, which are ignored or only appear until it is too late, etc...  We have a central figure(s) which we follow and who usually survive the disasters (because we need a human perspective on the dangers).  We have salvation from the danger by some means, a shelter, an ark, aliens, etc...  We also usually see or know about the scientists who are making the discovery and rescue from the disaster.  These are all tropes of the disaster genre.  The way that I feel Knowing elevates this theme is that both the characters and the audience don't know what is going on.  In fact, for much of the movie we do not know that it is a disaster movie.  It starts out much like a thriller or drama and builds all the way to its apocalyptic conclusion.  In the last scene even the Earth (or at least the surface) is destroyed.

Notice the way that the scene builds this terror and awe.  First we have a characteristic of the sublime that Edmund Burke describes in On the Sublime and the Terrible, that is "When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful."  In other words, distance.  We achieve a certain amount of this simply by not actually being present and only watching it, and usually this is sufficient.  In this ending scene, however, the main character (played by Nicholas Cage) dies along with his family.  To achieve an additional separation there is music, and it replaces the other sounds completely (at least at first) creating a feeling of distance between the imagery and the sound.  I had mentioned previously that sound was mentioned in Aesthetics of Film as one of the most overlooked artistic aspects of a movie, but I would argue it is also very effective when used properly.

While Emily Dickinson doesn't have aliens coming down to save mankind from a global disaster, she still could capture the power of nature.  For example:

AN AWFUL tempest mashed the air,
The clouds were gaunt and few;
A black, as of a spectre’s cloak,
Hid heaven and earth from view.

The word mashed is very powerful here.  The word mash implies a tension and destruction, even as it applies to something intangible like air.  The word awful is especially interesting as it goes back to the very definition of the sublime as it simultaneously means both horrible and to be filled with awe or wonderment.  This stanza also makes reference to dark imagery with the "gaunt" clouds and the "spectre's cloak."  The stanza ends with a reminder of the power of nature, as it started with the mashing of the air.  The tempest (which also has darker connotations than simply storm) hides "heaven and earth," reminding us of the scope of natures power.

Andrew Morris

This article is part of a continuing theme on Emily Dickinson, modern media, and the sublime, if you would like to know more read here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Emily Dickinson Conference

There is an upcoming conference on Emily Dickinson being hosted at Oxford University, by The Emily Dickinson International Society (EDIS).  It will be hosted on August 6-8 this year.  I wish I could go, partly because I would love to be able to go to England, but also because I really do enjoy the work of Emily Dickinson.  Of all the poets, Emily Dickinson makes me feel poetic.  Her verse makes me feel like poetry is going to spill out of the world.

Anyway, the topic for the conference is "’were I Britain born’: Dickinson’s Transatlantic Connections.”  Since it is held by the EDIS it makes sense that it is about Emily Dickinson's poetry in an international sense.

The Topics Include:

Session 1:
British Connections I: Dickinson, Shakespeare, and Milton
British Connections II: Keats
British Connections III: Dickinson and the Brontës

Session 2:
Global Connections I: Dickinson in and out of Japan, Russia, and France
Dickinson, Nature, and God
British Connections IV: Dickinson and Emily Brontë

Session 3:
Dickinson and Class
Global Connections II: Dickinson in German and Polish Authors
Dickinson, Gender, and the Woman Writer

Session 4:
British Connections V: George Eliot Vol. I
Dickinson’s Isolation and Dissemination
Manuscripts I: Dickinson’s Manuscript Books
Traveling Feet: Dickinson’s Meter and the Lyric

Session 5:
Dickinson and the Arts I: "Imagination's Muse: Emily Dickinson as Creative Inspiration"
British Connections VII: Dickinson’s Imagery
British Connections VI: Solitude and Suffering
Archival Resources: “’Over the fence – I could climb’: Primary Sources for Dickinson Scholarship”

Session 6:
Dickinson and the Arts II: “Dickinson on Stage: A Roundtable Discussion”
Dickinson and the Self
British Connections VIII: George Eliot Vol. II.

Session 7:
Drama in Dickinson
Manuscripts II: “Dickinson in Pieces”
Dickinson in New England

Session 8:
British Connections IX: Dickinson’s Imagination and Words
British Connections X: Romantic and Religious Visions
Dickinson’s Signature: Questions of (Poetic) Identity

Session 9:
Dickinson’s Ethics and Poetics
Dickinson and the Question of Fame
British Connections XI: Dickinson and the Brownings

So Overall, it looks like a very full conference.  You can find a copy of the program here.

Andrew Morris

Religion and the Sublime

In the movie Contact religion features prominently.  In the movie, Ellie, the main character meets Palmer who is a religious man.  She as a scientist cannot understand his perspective on God.  His claim to have had an experience that he cannot verify aggravates her as her scientific discipline wants everything to be verifiable and quantifiable.
Later in the movie, she to has an experience that is beyond her comprehension and which changes her when she goes through the device that has been built to contact aliens (sorry for the bulgarian subtitles):

This is what we might call her conversion experience.  As a part of the film there is no proof that this journey occurred, the transition is instantaneous even though she has experienced hours. She is in the position of defending an experience for which she has no proof, just like Palmer was in before:

By exploring this issue, Contact comes very close to the issue of the sublime.  The sublime is by its very nature not possible to describe, only to feel.  One who has felt a particular aspect of the sublime may speak with someone else who has also and be understood more clearly, but it not always possible to convey our experience.  This ties in very well with religion, religion is often about the very personal element of our experience, without the proof to show to someone else.  So perhaps the better word to describe this aspect of the sublime is faith.

Emily Dickinson also examined some of the conflicts of religion.  To say that Emily Dickinson was not religious would be false, but she did not necessarily respect institutionalized religion:

"Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I'm going, all along."

In this poem Emily Dickinson "actually divinizes the earth," according to an entry by Susan Rieke in An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia.  This is much like in Contact, where the experience of the conversion moment is deeply involved with the idea of beauty in nature.  Religion in this sense loses to structure and formal institutions because they do not offer the power that nature offers.  This idea of direct communion to God through the world is in contrast to not only the religious institutions of Emily Dickinson's life, but also the scientific discipline of Ellie.

Andrew Morris

This article is part of a continuing theme on Emily Dickinson, modern media, and the sublime, if you would like to know more read here.

Sickness, Zombies, and the Sublime

And as pale sickness does invade, Your frailer part, the breaches made, In that fair lodging still more clear, Make the bright guest, your soul, appear.
--Edmund Waller

I had the opportunity to be sick recently.  I know that that is an odd turn of phrase, but let me suffice to say that I am to some degree a sensualist, and while I may not enjoy all the things that happen to me I do try to understand them in context.  In my family, my father is often incapacitated with migraines.  He has had surgery on his sinuses, tried numerous medications, participated in a clinical trial, and more to try to get rid of them.  In my family, being able to massage others has become a life skill, simply because at various times we need to care for on of us who under the weather, sometimes we are all under the weather.  I and two of my brothers have also inherited the lovely sinus problems and migraines that are a part of our family legacy.  We all live here in Utah.  My brother John has had a migraine everyday for the last week and a half, a byproduct of the summer storms.  My brother Scott and I both acquired migraines within hours of each other as a summer storm rolled through on the weekend.  We both love spring and summer storm season, in fact I have very fond memories of living Tucson and watching storms during monsoon season, but it hurts sometimes.  Hurting and sickness are simply part of the human condition.

Since sickness is such a universal condition, it makes sense that we explore it literature and entertainment.  In fact in modern times, with the possibility of disease being engineered, or acquiring some new mutation, it becomes a force unto itself.  In the nature of humankind, we take something and make it larger than life in order to understand it, we make it sublime.

This connection is particularly apparent in zombie movies.  In many zombie movies, first of all, zombies are caused by some illness.  And furthermore, they exhibit disease-like behavior, spreading the infection intentionally.  In fact if you go look up zombies, you may go to a website like this one:  It is an article which discusses the possibility of a virus that actually causes zombies and uses rabies as an example of a disease that causes behavior.  The Ebola virus does something similar, when the host is dying it causes them to flail around in order to spread the disease.  However, even though a virus like Ebola has an extremely high mortality rate, it usually kills itself off simply because it is too effective.  Truly well adapted viruses behave more like the common cold, rarely killing anyone, but always coming back.  Zombies are an exaggeration, the embodiment of our fear of disease, for when we suffer from disease we are reminded of our own mortality and that instead of recovering we might have slipped over the edge.  So you get videos like 28 days later, and this youtube clip (turn down your volume, because it is loud):

In Emily Dickinson's poetry you can also see sickness being elevated.  For an example see:

As One does Sickness over
In convalescent Mind,
His scrutiny of Chances
By blessed Health obscured—

As One rewalks a Precipice
And whittles at the Twig
That held Him from Perdition
Sown sidewise in the Crag

A Custom of the Soul
Far after suffering
Identity to question
For evidence't has been—

In this poem, Dickinson examines sickness after having recovered.  The sickness becomes a testing ground for the mind.  It is a precipice that you can examine and say what if?  It is an edge into death because you can always ask, how close was I, and as in the poem "whittles at the Twig | That held Him from Perdition."  Sickness is sublime, not just because we lose control of our bodies, reminding us how very fragile we are, but also because they embody the human condition.  And the human condition is constantly attempting to forget that we are as a person who has fallen over a cliff and is holding on by the barest thread, wondering when we will fall into the sublime arms of death (whatever that may turn out to mean).  As my father likes to say: There is one human constant, no one gets out alive.

Andrew Morris

This article is part of a continuing theme on Emily Dickinson, modern media and the sublime, if you would like to know more read here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Trying to Catagorize the Sublime

Sublime upon sublime scarcely presents a contrast, and we need a little rest from everything, even the beautiful.
--Victor Hugo

Since I am attempting to form a (somewhat) cohesive work I feel obliged to begin to encapsulate it and summarize it on one page or post as much as possible.  Though I first want to mention that attempting to categorize the sublime, both within my posts and within this central organizational structure may be considered counter-sublime.  As I am now introducing you to my main subject, we should probably move on to that.

The Definition of the Sublime

The sublime.  If you are reasonably well read, or have another reason to have a large vocabulary, you probably already know its standard definition, which is where we will start.  It is (from the Oxford Dictionary):

• adjective (sublimer, sublimest)
1 of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.
2 extreme or unparalleled: sublime confidence.

There is also a definition from chemistry:

  • verb Chemistry (with reference to a solid substance) change directly into vapour when heated, typically forming a solid deposit again on cooling.

— ORIGIN Latin sublimis, from sub- ‘up to’ + a second element perhaps related to limen ‘threshold’ or limus ‘oblique’.

The sublime is usually considered to evoke positive emotions and connotations in these definitions (except in chemistry, then it's just a process).  That is something that you lose when you go into the literary definition.  The sublime certainly can be positive, but it can also be negative.  For the sake of literature, the sublime can be considered any experience that transcends any attempt to describe it.

How the Sublime Pertains to Our Discussion

My project involves using examples of the poetry of Emily Dickinson and comparing it to media (in particular video).  In each example I am highlighting a particular element of the sublime.  My true main argument is perhaps a little more general.  The fact that we can find the sublime both in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and in movies, which are often public venues of entertainment, suggests that they are an essential part of the human experience.  That is why this project matters.  Even if you don't care for Emily Dickinson, or popular media, you still know what it is to be human, and the sublime is part of your existence.

Where our discussion has lead us so far: 

So far I have discussed a number of topics, they are in order of discussion:

First I have had some posts that were purely formative, in which I was discussing the process of research (though research never really stops), they are:

Literally a Literature Blog, Figuratively Speaking

Emily Dickinson Research Trends

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

The Form of our Blog Projects

Then I begin to dig a little more deeply into my subject matter:

Emily Dickinson as the Precursor to the Dark Sublime
-In this post I discuss the Dark Sublime as it relates to another piece of literature, Heart of Darkness By Conrad, and a poem of Emily Dickinson's. I also examining the fact that Emily Dickinson is ariving at the Dark Sublime years before anyone else.

The Circular Sublime-This post discusses the opening scene of the movie Contact in context of an Emily Dickinson poem.  This particular example of the sublime focuses on cyclical nature, space, and humanities place in the universe.

Avatar Party - Avatar as a Sublime Experience?
-I don't have a specific Emily Dickinson poem that this post refers to, but I examine a few of the themes that you can find in the movie Avatar.

Sickness, Zombies, and the Sublime
-Sickness as a sublime experience, and also zombies as a manifestation on the modern fear of zombies.  I also bring this into an example of poetry from Emily Dickinson.

Religion and the Sublime

-A return to the movie Contact, this time exploring the issue of religion, faith, and sublime.  Then I examine Emily Dickinson's perspective on structured religion.

Emily Dickinson Conference-Not actually about a specific subject and the sublime.  There is an upcoming conference at Oxford University hosted by EDIS (Emily Dickinson International Society).  I just give a brief look at the subjects that they will be exploring.

Terror and Awe - A Return to the Early Sublime  - A return to some of the early historical aspects of the sublime as described by Edmund Burke.  Nature, disaster movies, and awe and terror.

Cohesion in Purpose - An attempt to make my blog a little more cohesive by pointing out what the value of the blogs that I have written is.

Reaching Out - Brief discussion of the sublimity of language.  Also my attempts to contact other people to comment and or discuss the ideas of this blog.

The Future? 

Here are a few elements that could be discussed in the future:

 -More specific Avatar examples in the context of Emily Dickinson.

 -Movie Criticism and the Sublime (I am currently reading through some books on Movie/Cinema Criticism so I am not sure if this will yet apply.)

 -Themes I find Emily Dickinson poems that are especially obvious to me, like the solitary/internal self, self vs society, nature,  gardening and flowers (I am sure I can make a sublime out of this somehow), Death, love, etc...  as long as I can find proper media examples.

-The movie What Dreams May Come as an example of sublime imagery.  It is also about love, heaven (particularly the psychology), internal landscapes, hell, madness, and grief and loss.  It is also a fantastic example of a movie that begins In medias res, or in the middle of things, as we skip back across his life to see his interactions with his children and wife, as we experience his story.

-Anything that people tell me I should discuss in more detail or cite as an example.  (So post comments people)

Andrew Morris

Added 06/17/2010:

I have been told a number of times that my definition of the sublime is still not clear enough.  While I am now tempted to steer them towards my blog on the sublimity of language, I feel I should attempt to do the subject greater justice.

I believe that my concept of the sublime is fairly simple.  It is any experience, feeling, or object that a person undergoes that raises emotions beyond the complete comprehension of that person.  A good definition comes from Edmund Burke, "In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it."  I should make it clear, however, that I do not subscribe to Burke's idea of the sublime as only being from terror and pain, and I consider any emotion that is heightened sufficiently can become overwhelming and become sublime.  I also do not limit it to emotional sublime.  It is possible for us as human beings to encounter experiences and objects that we cannot comprehend.  They may well have emotional overtones, but the stars in the sky and realization of that infinity, which I have had a few times is overpowering by itself.

I hope this makes things a little clearer, if not let me know and I will try again.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Avatar Party - Avatar as a Sublime Experience?

I knew that I would most likely not have time to write in my blog on Friday, between going class and the Avatar party later my day was fairly full. I had intended to write Saturday, but my day was taken over by my friend Laura (not that that is a bad thing) and we made Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon, which we had been putting off for a while. Not surprising considering it involved more money and utensils then we probably should have paid for. Sunday is a day of worship and it just didn't feel right to write the blog on Sunday, not to mention helping my brother brainstorm for a new novel. And Memorial day was taken up by more of the novel activity, some housework I had put off, and of course, some getting together with friends and family.
So now its Tuesday and I'm finally getting back to my blog. Nothing like life to get in the way of everything else.

So we had the Avatar party last Friday on the 28th. We had Indian food for dinner and also watched some movie scenes from India. I am tempted to say Bollywood, but these videos were actually from southern India which lead to a few cultural difference that Professor Burton pointed out to us. Avatar is in many ways about the difference between cultures and some culture shock. I think that was echoed fairly well with my classmates as we watched the movies from India. There was an element that felt off, a part of our perceptions that said that this should not be this way, that should be different, etc... And while it is not the main thing that I want to talk about in regards to Avatar, it occurred to me that being exposed to cultures which strike you in this way could be a form of sublime. I think it is a lesser sublime, but for a time your mind is expecting a different action and consequence than it gets. Culture is a way of seeing the world, and expose to a new culture is a new way of thinking that is at first beyond your comprehension. And what could be more sublime than that which the mind is not yet ready to comprehend?

Avatar is not just a single sublime experience. Like any good book or movie it may have a central argument but that is not its only one.  It is a sublime of the power and glory of nature, as well as natures raw beauty.  It is about the war within mankind that has been going on since the beginning, not only of good and evil but also of moving forward or moving back, and mankind's simultaneous fear and acceptance of the new.  It is about religion and God's interplay with nature.  It is as I had mentioned also about the conflict between points of view and separate cultures.  It is also about identity and about the self verses or between two societies (more than that really, we have the scientists who form another separate culture).  It is also very much a love story, and it may be questioned whether the main character, Jake Sully can be considered to be truly one of the Na'vi because of their ideals or because he was in love with Neytiri (though his later experiences are very like a conversion story in which he becomes converted to the nature religion of the Na'vi).  It is about military and civilian, and how those modes of thought differ, though it is fortunate that it does not make the mistake of saying one or the other is evil.  It is about how money can be an end in itself, and when it becomes the most important thing everything else can be sacrificed for that.  There is also the question of honorable war, and what it is and is not worth going to war for.

There are more that I could go into.  I think what I really wanted to demonstrate is that the sublime is part of the human experience.  Most humans go through love at some point, but who really understands all that it means to love?  Love as a matter of fact is one of the perfect examples of the sublime, because it is supposed to be about giving yourself over to something larger than yourself, without necessarily knowing why.  The sublime with it state of being that which we do not understand because it is bigger than the human experience can hold, is however, still very much a part of what it means to be human.  So it really should not surprise us that we find it across art.  The issues may change, the very sublimes that we encounter may change their image, but the sublime is as much a part of our culture now as has always been.