How to Recognize and Resolve Writing Burnout

Sally dreamed of becoming a successful writer. For several years, she had been working as a freelance writer. Her upcoming project was due in a few hours. At first, Sally was enthusiastic about the new project, which she’d been working on over the last two weeks. But every time she picked up her laptop to write a sentence, no inspiration struck.

After the initial excitement of the project wore off, Sally felt increasingly rushed to finish the assignment. Additionally, she started to avoid writing whenever she could: she would do a load of laundry, scrub the kitchen floor, shampoo the carpet, vacuum the stairs—anything to avoid writing. Disagreements and arguments between clients and Sally seemed to happen regularly.

Now, well after midnight, Sally stares blankly at her computer screen, realizing that her eleventh hour is quickly coming to a close.

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Identifying the Problem: What is Writing Burnout?

The fictional anecdote above could happen to any freelance writer. Whether freelance writers have worked independently for several years or have been working on one project for several months, writing burnout can happen. Burnout means that an individual experiences mental or physical exhaustion because he or she is overworked or stressed. Writing burnout is a real problem. But what are the signs of writing burnout, and what can be done about it?

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak (image found here)


How to Recognize Writing Burnout

Recognizing writing burnout can be difficult for many freelance writers. On the LinkedIn group page called “Freelance Writers,” web writer and small business owner David K. William posted an article and asked how to deal with burnout. William posted Tiffany Faming’s article called “3 Signs You Are Approaching a Writing Burnout.” In this article, the three signs Faming warned of were the following: first, “you don’t want [the article to be] perfect, you just want it done”; second, “you’ll take any opportunity to avoid writing”; and third, “you’re having problems with clients.” Although these signs may seem obvious, freelance writers must be aware of how they are feeling in order to identify burnout.

In the story at the start of this essay, Sally experienced all three of these signs. First, she tried to rush through writing to complete the project. Second, she cleaned instead of writing (which is always a bad sign). Third, Sally argued with clients more often than normal. If freelance writers experience one or all three of these signs, they are probably feeling writing burnout. After addressing the telltale signs of burnout, what can freelance writers do about the lack of inspiration?

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The Responses: How to Resolve Writing Burnout

If freelance writers begin to feel exhausted from writing, they should find options to resolve the problem. On the LinkedIn group page, David K. William’s question was how to deal with writing burnout. In the comments section of this post, freelance writers offered their ideas they use in their own work. Their suggestions fall under two main categories: take a break or continue working. These two ideas could appear contradictory; however, freelance writers must determine which suggestion works best for them.

First: Take a break.

On the LinkedIn page, many freelance writers suggested taking time away from projects. For example, freelance writers could stop writing and start reading. Ronald Joseph Kule, a contributor to the LinkedIn discussion, explains, “When facing burnout, I realize this phenomenon as a stuck, one-way flow: too much outflow. So, I pick up one of my books written by another author and sit and read it in a different physical space from where I work.” Reading books may not only help freelance writers clear their minds but also help inspire them to write like other talented authors. In another comment, Roger Livesey explains that after reading blogs, he not only becomes more motivated to write again but also learns something new from what he read. After reading, the new information freelance writers learn could inspire their writing. Taking a break can help freelance writers beat burnout.

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Of course, there are other options of what a freelance writer could do to beat burnout. Creative options—away from the writing arena, of course—should help freelance writers. For example, freelance writer Susan Shuman explains that she takes a break by finger painting or coloring. Being artsy instead of wordy could be a good way to get out of a funk. Another option for some freelance writers is drinking. As David Cooper, another contributor to the LinkedIn discussion, explains, “[G]o to the nearest bar like Ernest Hemingway did,” or as Frank Cagno describes, have a drink and have fun to “clear your mind.” Religious and/or non-alcoholic freelance writers will not take this suggestion for moral reasons. However, having fun and clearing your mind—even when drinking is not involved—can help beat burnout.

Second: Continue working.

On the other hand, rather than taking time off from writing, the second suggestion is to continue working. This process can involve continuing to write the current piece or focusing on other tasks, such as editing or writing something else. Elizabeth Haynes explains on the LinkedIn comments section, “Mostly I just have to force myself to write, albeit in smaller chunks than usual. No writing = no paycheck.” Money is always a motivating factor, especially for freelance writers. Freelance writers could feel more motivated by pushing through and working in smaller chunks at a time, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the whole project. Haynes continues, “[S]ometimes getting an influx of new work gets me moving again. Sometimes if things are slow I have a harder time writing than when I’m really busy.” Although constantly pushing work out will certainly lead to burnout, staying busy is beneficial for freelance writers.

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Another way freelance writers can feel motivated is by editing or rewriting other parts of their work. Editing is an essential part of the writing process, but editing can also help freelance writers feel motivated again. In the LinkedIn post, another freelance writer, Matt Duncan, claims that “editing my work helps me get over a block. Editing [is] the part of writing that is the least creative and I find that the creative side of my brain [will] fight to work when I’m not using it.” Editing may not seem creative for some freelance writers; therefore, working that part of the brain—the supposedly less creative side—could motivate a freelance writer. Additionally, freelance writers could try rewriting previous sections of their work. In the LinkedIn post, Vicki Roth describes her process: she likes to “take something [she has] written before and rewrite or correct it.” By rewriting, freelance writers could not only dispel burnout but also create better writing.

Although taking time off or continuing work may seem like contradictory options, both are valid for freelancer writers to try if they feel unmotivated. What works for one writer may not work for another. For freelancer writers, what is important is to be aware of how their bodies are responding, mentally and emotionally. However, if these options do not dispel burnout, what else can freelance writers try?

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Additional Ideas of How to Resolve Writing Burnout

There are many ways to resolve writing burnout. The opposite of burnout is to stay inspired. Elsie Larson is the creator and writer of the blog A Beautiful Mess, a company that hinges on inspiration, imagination, and creativity. Her success story is based on her ability to avoid burnout. When working on different projects, she suggests five tips to stay inspired: first, “carry a journal”; second, “find a new muse”; third, “develop a creative playlist”; fourth, “refresh your workspace”; and finally, “prove yourself wrong” by making a list of “the impossible” and then accomplishing those goals. When freelance writers evaluate how they are feeling about a project, they can try these ideas to continue staying inspired.

Maybe freelancer writers need to get away. Where should freelancer writers go to find inspiration? As Elsie Larson suggests, freelance writers could try a flea market, the library, a local historic district, or a bookstore. Perhaps they would prefer to go outdoors: have a picnic, take a country drive, or check out a flower shop. These ideas are just a few places for freelance writers to go to avoid writing burnout and to become more inspired.

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Conclusion

Freelance writers must recognize their career goals and work hard. As wealthy freelance writers, the reality of writing burnout is important to be aware of and to recognize. Freelance writers should be conscious of how they are feeling about work. Then freelance writers can adapt to their needs easier. As a result, wealthy freelance writers may be emotionally and mentally fit—in the workforce and in life.

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 Works Cited

Heartbeat

madera-contrachapada-ocre

Last night when I lay down sickly,

Resting my tired head on the table,

My ear against that smooth surface,

I heard thu-thump, thu-thump,

And for a yielding second,

I truly believed that I was listening to

The wood’s heartbeat—

Its soul connecting with mine.

Of course, it was only my own quick heart,

Thumping loudly in my tiring ears.

But there was a connection, spiritual and soft

Between the ancient, stricken tree and me.

E n g l i s h

When I’m not cooking curry or eating desserts, I’m usually traveling. I’ve been all over the United States, from California Adventures to Disney World, from Pike’s Peak to Times Square. Last Fall semester, I explored France, Italy, Scotland, and England, enjoying art, food, music, and cultures different from my own.

While I love doing yoga in ancient ruins and being enraptured by nature, I’ve learned that reading—as cliché as this is going to seem—is another way to go on adventures by exploring how a writer expresses what it means to be human.

 

I first decided to be an English major because I had lofty goals: I wanted to be a writer and to change the world and to make people happy. Although these are still my goals, I’ve realized that there are many ways to learn and to feel that I had never before realized were possible.

Learning how to think and learning new perspectives has enabled me to stretch myself—as a scholar, as a citizen, as a friend, as a daughter, as a child of God. Our universal status of all being children of a loving and an all-powerful God does not mean that our existence here on earth is completely and totally universal.

 

Modernist writers Virginia Woolf and James Joyce show me their world of determining who you are in a broken, changing world.

The experiences of Buchi Emecheta and Ama Ata Aidoo show me their world of being African and the trials they endured.

John D. Fitzgerald, just as much as F. Scott Fitzgerald, shows me a world of what it can mean to be American, of struggling in the American West or with the American dream.

And there’s a beauty in that adventure, that universal search of what it means to be human.

Written Wednesday: Sarah Perkins

My dear friend, Sarah Perkins, has shared one of her essays on the blog today! She’s such a talented writer. Enjoy!

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“Bears”

To Big Bear, the most domesticated grizzly I ever knew. Merry Christmas, Daddy.


Old Ephraim is supposed to be the biggest grizzly bear that ever lived. He stood at nine feet, eleven inches, and weighed about 1,100 pounds (which is approximately equivalent to 4.6 NFL linebackers sitting together on a scale). Though he had a big heart and no natural enemies, he had but few friends. This may have been due to his tendency to devour the local sheep. They were conveniently scattered around his mountain home, and after a long day of foraging for nuts and tubers, he would often climb into his neighbors’ pasture for a late night snack. Lamb is widely acknowledged to be tastier than tuber.

The shepherds did not understand. Although Old Ephraim was capable of living on huckleberries and wheat grass, his body was made for meat. Grizzly bears have 42 sharp teeth for tearing meat, strong noses for smelling meat, rounded ears for hearing future meat, and a carnivore’s stomach for digesting meat. The berries are their salad—the promise that another, better course is about to come. Why then do we deny them their caribou? Their delicious hoary marmots? Why do we wish to confine them to cutworm moths and hide away the bison?

I imagine a few shepherds may have tried to suggest a compromise.

“Look here, Ephraim,” they may have said, “You can’t go about eating all the sheep. But you may eat the ground squirrels. Please, eat all the squirrels you like. And the raccoons, as well. There are more than enough of them for you.”

But Ephraim swings his big, furry head and walks back up into the mountain. He is a big bear, and ground squirrels are toothpicks, not meals. He will return later that night and borrow another cup of lamb.

Old Ephraim was a smart bear. Many shepherds would lay traps for him, only to return and find them sprung and empty except for a rock. We can only infer that grizzly bears, as notable sports enthusiasts, have a strong arm and superior aim.

An outdoorsman, too, Old Ephraim was. Most bears are, for that matter, always hiking, and fishing, and spelunking. In the spring and summer, they sleep outside, limbs reaching out across the grass or curling loosely about a serviceable log. A log is really all they need. They are solitary sportsmen. Having stayed up through the night, they are likely to sleep most of the morning and early afternoon. When they do arise, perhaps they will wish for something to do. Most bears can climb trees, but not the adult grizzly. Old Ephraim would have been too big, and his claws too long. He could not have even grasped the trunk. This should not be seen as a significant loss, however, as few sheep live in those branches, and even fewer caribou.

So instead, Ephraim must have gone on a swim. Bear Lake, nestled in the heart of Cache National Forest, is big and lonely and old. Old Ephraim identified with it. He would lumber into its depths and allow the current to fish ticks and thorns out of his coat, then paddle his way through his geographical namesake. The trout would avoid him, the minnows would speed away, but he was not forlorn. Old Ephraim was a reclusive fellow and did not protest against the squelchy peace.

Afterwards he would crawl beneath a willow tree, lie on his back, and let the branches filter the sun upon his grizzled snout. (Grizzly, the piebald mix of grey and brown and gold upon a single hair, should never be confused with grisly, which is a synonym for behemoth mosquitoes and dental appointments.) Under the tree, he would ponder the solitary delights of honey-fresh beehives and fleshy lamb chops served exclusively to him. It would be a simple, sleepy afternoon.

I read in a book about Berserks: (Bear-surks) Norse warriors who wore bear skins into battle. They believed this gave them the same ferocious aggression as their furred counterparts. Some scholars believed they achieved this by working themselves into a frenzy before a fight. Their faces would swell, their teeth would chatter, and they would begin beating their chests and clawing their hair and running about the woods on all fours. Others claim they would eat a hallucinogenic mushroom or drink a whole cask of beer. On one point, however, all scholars are generally agreed: they must have been very warm under all that fur.

We may assume from their assumptions that these Bear-people were at one time shepherds, who are prone to think of bears only as the shadowy cause behind missing sheep. They clearly did not see Old Ephraim lounging beneath a tree while the honeybees hummed lazy warbles in drippy yellow sun light. If they had, perhaps they would have chosen to be a Great White Shark-serk, or an Angry Rhinoceros-serk. But shepherds do not keep much company with grizzly bears, and cannot be expected to notice anything but the stained wool their carnivorous neighbors leave behind.

Frank Clark was a shepherd. The details are hazy, but we do know that he shot Old Ephraim on August 22, 1923. He shot him seven times until he died. Though Frank Clark felt sorrow, his sheep bleated relief.

I have seen Old Ephraim’s grave; my dad took our family to see it once. It is situated at the end of a 12 mile road up a mountain. It was a long path, but we had a car, so the journey would be short. On the way, Dad told us about the bear.

“Eleven feet tall,” Dad said, “With an appetite big as the mountains he roved. And nothing but fated sheep, and baby orphan deerlings, and pulpy human flesh could satisfy.”

The stories lasted for thirty minutes, by which time we were, in our innocence, expecting a gold encrusted statue of Bearzilla, preserved DNA samples for cloning purposes, and a themed ice cream shop serving cones the size of his actual fangs. We were young, and our imagination of fang ice cream was vivid.

However we could not anticipate the road that remained before us. Twelve miles up a graveled, zigzagged, mountained road is different than twelve miles in Texas. The park guide book states that The Old Ephraim Trail should be considered by solid intermediate bike riders only, but gives no instructions for the tenuous suburban rider. The path was steep, and our suburban was scratched up by the low living trees that it was too big to climb.

“I do not think I would like to hike today” the suburban said. “My axles are hurting. And my undercarriage is abraised. I would like to take a rest here, and then roll and roll my way, zip, back down the mountain and home to Texas where the roads are flat and the trees grow beside the path, not upon it.”

We did not reply, for car-speaking is generally a frowned upon endeavor. Dad accelerated up another switchback.

Traveling at a rate of 184 acorns per minute, we reached the grave after two hours. Here we were surprised to find not an ice cream shop, not a statue, but a rock. A nine foot, eleven inch tall rock. It was large, and creviced, and tan, and decidedly not the same thing as a bear. We took a picture by this rock. In it my sister is frowning. I asked if she was mourning Old Ephraim.

“No,” she said, “I am mourning the journey back.”

Hers was a discerning statement, for there was little here to mourn. In truth, this was not even where Old Ephraim died. Shepherds and boy scouts placed the rock here because the trees looked nice, so the rock was more of a so-once-there-was-this-bear than a here-lies-Old-Ephraim kind of rock. In fact, Old Ephraim was not here at all. His bones are not blanketed in layers of earth and tubers, left to chatter convivially with centipedes or other soil-friendly creatures. Rather they are resting on a windowsill, or maybe serving as a paperweight on a stack of legal documents. An old man from Paris, Texas subconsciously picks up the bleached phalange and turns it around in his fingers before setting it back down and making another note in his book.

After Frank Clark shot Old Ephraim, he removed his skin, buried his remains, and marked the spot with a pile of stones, the tallest of which was approximately eight inches tall, which is 94% less tall than the no-bear-here rock. These stones Boy Scout Troop 43 found, and with them Old Ephraim.

“Scouts, we shall dig up the bones and sell them to tourists,” they say. “It will be easy and brilliant and thrifty.” So the scouts take shovels and rediscover the departed bear. He is 86% lighter than before, and they sell his bones until he is 100% dismembered and dispersed across the continental United States, his skull being in the Smithsonian, and his third vertebrae being in Grandma Opal’s basement.

This of course is a highly efficient method of diffusing your genetic coding, especially if you, like most male grizzly bears, are estranged from your offspring and cannot otherwise know the fate of your biological legacy. Grizzly bears do not make ideal fathers. Before his death, Old Ephraim’s wife had finalized the divorce and taken full custody of their children. She called them Little Ephraim and Manasseh, and together they wandered through Cache National Forest where she taught them to stand in the stream with their mouths wide open and let the swimming, leaping salmon hop into their fruitious jaws.

“Free!” cried the salmon, “I am flying and free!”

Chomp chomp chomp.

These salmon travel over 900 miles every year, swimming upstream, bounding over waterfalls like a mad, sodden kangaroo, all so they may spawn in the riverbed. Laying eggs for the salmon is not an easy task, for upon completing their journey and anchoring their embryonic posterity in a mossy nest, the salmon die. They hold on as long as they can, the female adding more algae to her offspring’s bedding, the male butting and biting intruders with the hump and teeth he grew just for this occasion. But the salmon get homesick. They were not meant for this tiny, lichen-y, insignificant-y biome. Though their hearts and eggs are in a pond, their bodies long for the ocean. The fresh water disagrees with them, and eventually they die, 942.7 miles inland from the Pacific coast. Their bodies decay, depositing nutrients in the waters their children will be born in. When they awake shrouded by particles of their parents, the next generation will slip away, down, down into the ocean where they will see the humpback whale clear his spout, and feed on arctic squid and herring, and learn to speak Russian.

And when they are grown, these salmon will return to these rivers, hurdling to their death, swimming, swimming, swimming back to the same nesting waters they were born in. And if they are not eaten by Little Ephraim or Manasseh, here they will gurgle “Thank you Mother. Thank you Father. I will now be a parent like you. I will grow teeth and a hump and let my body dissolve into nutritious molecules for my children, and they will grow happy and strong as I have done.”

Old Ephraim did no such thing. He was not interested in children. He left his family before they were born, moving on to greener pastures full of sheep. And he was a free bear, forever unencumbered by hunting education, or first claws, or escorted trips to the bathroom during hibernation. If he did stay, as grizzly bear fathers sometimes do, he may have eaten his cubs—blind, bald, less than a pound—confusing them with a mole or maybe a delicious hoary marmot that snuck into his cave to escape the cold.

So Ephraim cartwheeled himself away from domestic responsibility to swim and eat sheep and nap by the lake as the day is long. And when he was shot, he did not know the names of Little Ephraim or Manasseh, and they did not know that he never climbed a tree, or that his skeleton reaches from San Francisco to Connecticut, or that the big rock stuck half way up the mountain was a monument to their father, the hermit patriarch of the forest.

But there are many taxonomies of father-figures, and not all of them are separated by species. Some salmon live out their days cradled in the infinite expanse of murky, waterlogged possibility. Some grizzly bears stay.

My dad stands in front of Old Ephraim’s rock. He is big and muscular and furry. I imagine him slouching towards us, imposing and hungry, with barred teeth and a wrinkled grizzly snout. His growls are similar to his snores—congested and impossible to ignore. Victoria would be the first to go: she is younger and slower and her scream is shriller than the rest of ours. He swallows her feet whole, gulp, then takes the rest of her behind the suburban to munch on. The rest of us he leaves father-less, sister-less, and bereft.

I try to imagine these things, but I can’t, because my father is not a bear. But if he was, he would be the kind that lies on his back beneath the willow tree and lets me lie beside him, and together we count the branches and yawn at the sun and lick the honey drips that slide down our too-long grizzly bear claws.

10 Summer Reading Books You Should Add to Your List

BOOKS
Who doesn’t love curling up with a good book to read after a long, hot day? Maybe some of my loves will inspire your summer reading! Here are some of books that came to the top of my head (listed in no particular order of preference).

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I read this my sophomore year of high school and fell in love. SOOOOOO much better than the movie (my apologies to all those hard-core, movie fans).

2. The Great Brain series by John Dennis FitzgeraldRealistic family relationships. Set in Utah. Funny & clever. I also cried sometimes. Read this for nostalgia of childhood summertimes.

 

3. P&PEmmaPersuasion by Jane Austen

I’m not a Jane-ite. But Emma, I think I have decided (at least for right now, at this very moment), is my favorite.

 

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I read this classic my freshman year of high school. I remember being a little creeped out but also endearingly intrigued by all the mystical stuff going on. Also, angsty teenage me connected with Jane.

 

5. The Harry Potter Series by the one and only J.K.

In two words?
My childhood. 🙂 I remember being so excited during the summer for the next book to come out. *sigh*

 

6. Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

When I was living in London, I read this book. Beautifully written and beautiful main character. Must. Read. I *cannot* stress this enough.

 

7. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Yet again, another childhood classic.

 

8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I also read Little Women my sophomore year of high school.
Or, at least, I finished the unabridged version. I remember reading a shortened version when I was in elementary school. When I was in fourth grade, I was Jo for Halloween. I’d like to pretend that I still am.

 

9. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

A-MAZ-ING.
If you would like to read my review, go to https://thebippityboppitybeautifulblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/code-name-verity/

 

10. Agatha Christie novels

I am, by no means, a prolific reader of Agatha. But it’s been fun reading some murder mysteries this summer. I really enjoyed the ABC Murders. How could you not love Poirot (whose name I think I can *finally* pronounce correctly)?
Currently, I am reading Murder at the Vicarage, and it’s so hilarious, sometimes I literally LOL. 🙂


Well, that’s all folks. I hope you enjoyed looking at some of my favorite books! 🙂

Have a beautiful day!!!   ❤

xoxo,

the bbb blogger

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.