Hi internet browsers,
It’s that time again.
I don’t know what time I was specifically referring to, but it would be nice to have a weekly… something. Perhaps I will find a day of the week to post poetry on. That would be exciting. A seven day countdown to prose. Mrooowr.
Or not. It really depends on whether or not you actually like reading my poetry/what I write. If you don’t that countdown would probably suck.
Anyway, I kind of had a point to this post, I’m pretty sure. Since I started uni again today it’s got my brain all processing shit, including my new wicked assignment from professional writing, which I will copy for you to laud and be jealous of, because I get to write about stuff like this… (okay many of you will not laud or be jealous, but I can pretend you guys like(d) school for a second, can’t I?) :
Choose a historical event (something that holds significance in the larger world, not just in your family or personal experience) or a cultural object (a painting, a piece of music, a building or monument etc) that is especially meaningful to you and analyze it. Then explain the personal impact that preoccupies the writer: the insight about self, the wisdom you gained, the significance that you want to communicate. In order to engage you reader your message should be clear and focused.
Isn’t that wicked? I have no idea what to pick yet, but the whole idea of a “personal context assignment” is so wonderfully personal and exploratory. Exactly the sort of stuff I love doing. Mostly because it helps me wean out my own personal opinions about things and also because it is freaking interesting to do something like that, and I have never tried anything of the sort before. New challenge, what what? If anyone is reading.. what would you pick that you can analyze through social context AND personal – and what would your analysis/perspective say about you? A painting? The Autobahn? A sandwich store? What?
But what I REALLY wanted to write about is my reading for next week: Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale, My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman. I just read it all in one go tonight from 10-12.. supaaa. It’s in the format of a graphic novel (ie. a comic book with a little bit of seriousness involved, and cooler thought processes and layouts) and totally reminds me of another “survivor” type graphic novel that I love called Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I think these types of books are so freaking amazing for so many reasons, some of which I will share with you, my willing audience.
Firstly, I can’t stress their influence on young people’s/everyone’s knowledge of world history; detailed or general. While the Holocaust is a pretty well-known event, very few people know of the suffering of other countries apart from Germany and Russia in it – Poland, Hungary and many, many others. Personal accounts of the war and world events have served my understanding of them so much more than Grade 10 history ever did (Mr. Treasure, I’m looking at you, asshole). I was reading this amazing book a while back that I never got around to finishing (yet) called The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, by Orlando Figes. This book has so many personal stories of people affected by Stalin’s regime and procedure and ideology – directly, indirectly, through their children, their news, their friends, their radio. Hearing real people’s experiences really brings history to the forefront of your brain and makes you visualize all of the terrors the people must have gone through, instead of just hearing numbers broken by commas to represent devastating world tragedies. Numbers do nothing to break our tv-addled brains from their incoherent and ambivalent stupors, but hearing stories does. Trust me.
There is a big difference in your approach to, “Life was hard in the gulags during Stalin’s reign,” when compared to,
“I saw the nurses getting the children up in the mornings. They would force them out of their cold beds with shoves and kick… Pushing the children with thier fists and swearing at them roughly, they took off their night clothes and washed them in ice-cold water. The babies didn’t even dare to cry. They made little sniffing noises like old men and let out low hoots. This awful hooting noise would come from the cots for days at a time. Children already old enough to be sitting up or crawling would lie on their backs, their knees pressed to their stomachs, making these strange noises, like the muffled cooing of pigeons.” (Whisperers).
Obviously, stories have a great deal of sway in showing us the reality of tragedies, events, and even joyous occasions. However, these books aren’t really about the joyous things as much as about the real things. The 20th century really seems like quite a bit of crap when you just take these 3 books as a sample: war between Iran and Iraq, Holocaust/ 2nd World War, Stalin’s brutal civil communism. It’s kind of crazy. Really crazy. It still baffles me that these are real stories. Not just made up to write for a book, not predictions, but the PAST, that HAPPENED, to REAL people. Unbelievable.
Anyway, so that’s obviously a giant bonus of these books (The Whisperers book not included – that is just a really beautiful history book taking a more personal look at things. Funny thing is that it was banned in Russia: go figure.), they make you revisit these events that you knew about but if you weren’t generationally connected, didn’t really care to go into the details of. This makes everything personal. War, death, struggle. The way it puts everything into such crisp perspective is astonishing – the drawings make it all the more real, for some reason.
While drawings kind of contradict a post I made a few days ago about the disappearance of reading and the dumbing down of society, I think these are drawings that simply help to more effectively spread a sombre but important message. These stories are told simply, instead of incessant layers of statistics and quotes. Just the facts. It makes it impossible to ignore. That one page in Maus with the men’s feet hanging from the gallows in the town square is so haunting that it really makes you upset. “I traded also with Pfefer, a fine young man – a Zionist. He was just married. His wife ran screaming in the street.” Guh.
These books are stunning in their take – so I definitely recommend them to anyone. Their drawings are pretty interesting as well – Satrapi has her own unique style (I especially like her drawing of God in the first book) and Spiegelman’s portrayal of the Jews and mice and the Nazis as cats is something that’ll keep me (and possibly you?) thinking past the time I’ve put down the book, which is definitely a good thing.
Anyway, it’s just cool when I can relate stuff I learn at school to stuff I’m interested in. Including history. Iran’s history is actually quite fascinating but unless you take a specific course on it in university, you won’t hear a peep about it in public schools in Canada. 300 probably came out of nowhere (or a lot of personal research on the viewer’s part) if you knew nothing about the Greek and Persian empires of the time. But once you take a classics course, this shit actually becomes really exciting and interesting, because you start putting this together and realizing where the movie strayed for Hollywood’s sake etc. Same thing with these books – the research it causes you to do post-coital (yes, I regard reading as having having sexual relations with my books) is in itself beneficial. Go see if these stories match up with other books, go see if other countries disagree (they do), and why, and why they’re wrong or not! Go learn. Oh man I’m so mentally excited, you’d think I just creamed in my nucleus accumbens. I’m so smart. Also, I just googled pleasure centre to be able to use that reference, but I KNEW IT FROM psychology, I just didn’t remember it’s name. I swear.
Anyway, goddamn that’s a lot of reading for you to get through, but rss it for future reading, in case you’re feeling a little dull or something. OR not. Whatever. Just saying, it’s cool, and these books are A-MAZING, so go read them. Also, I love university. Oh, I am so lame.
That’s it for tonight,