Tag Archive: interesting ideas


Essay Crisis

Ever since a young age, studying English at primary school, my superiors in the academic world – be they teachers, tutors, or lecturers – have constantly aggrandised the term ‘essay’. It is accepted fact in many departments and faculties across the globe that an essay is the optimum medium through which to express intellectual thought as literary criticism. And with this convention comes a wide variety of academic clichés and figures of speech prevalent in certain fields of discourse. But is an essay always the best way of structuring and expressing ideas on a work of literature?
cartoonified image of a hand with a pencil

The backbone of an essay is surely its content, but too often I see this lacking in essays written either in published collections or on electronic journals. I question whether the best way of engaging with a poem is really to write an essay about it, or whether a Powerpoint presentation, or a visually impactful, expansive reproduction of the work, written out with detailed annotations, is more powerful. When studying Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ for A Level, my teacher printed out the entirety of Faustus’s final speech on A3 paper, and we discussed it and annotated it in great detail. This was infinitely more enjoyable, appealing, and helpful at the time of revision than any essay I had written.

Throughout my teenage years I have written countless essays, predominantly for English and modern languages, that did not aid my understanding when I came to the exam at the end of the year any more than spending an hour or so making notes on the text itself. I used to spend days and days planning what I would write, desperately trying to organise my thoughts into some form of coherent arrangement, when I could have been devoting that time to reading the text itself.

There are some essays, without a doubt, that are exemplary in terms of what literary criticism should ultimately constitute. However, too often I read what amount to vacuous musings on the text, void of any real purchase onto its linguistic make-up and too afraid of Wimsatt’s ‘affective fallacy’ to demonstrate any real, intriguing engagement. Impersonality, objectivity, and academic convention have tarnished much positive interaction with the text, as young writers feel that they cannot express themselves for fear that their style and rhetoric is decidedly inadequate in comparison with established literary critics.

A common observation, pointed out numerous times but over and again with apparent originality, is that literary criticism uses the same medium as its subject, a luxury not afforded to any of the other arts. And yet, why does this have to be so? Why can’t a YouTube video engaging rigorously and tenaciously with a text be considered as ‘worthwhile’ as something too bogged down in rhetoric to be of any value? I myself have often learnt much more from watching an introductory clip on the Internet about a particular aspect of literary theory than I have from reading a dense and periphrastic essay.

I am not saying: ‘get rid of all essays’. I am not saying ‘YouTube is the way forward for literary criticism’. But what I am saying is that the essay should not have pride of place without having continually to justify itself. There are too many essays I read in English, Spanish or French that are useful for nothing more than the odd quotation when a critic has invested all their mental capacities into producing some pleasant turn of phrase. Often I have been more impressed with close analysis -of poetry, in particular – on websites such as Sparknotes than I have with general, overview-type essays written by critics and scholars who attempt to adopt this ‘objective’ stance. The demands on young writers to make their essays logically consistent, with clear lines of argument, sometimes detracts from what they originally think when reading a text. I say we let bullet points, visual media, colour, colloquialisms, and fun back into literary criticism.

 

Image credits: 1

Here is a list of my top 5 most evil Disney villains (taken from animation, only). Do you agree?

Stromboli – Pinocchio (1940)Image of Stromboli from Disney film

Stromboli is fat, angry, evil, and horrid. His manipulation of small boys in order to perform on stage, before burning them for firewood when they are no longer fit for his purpose, is particularly heart-rending for viewers of this well-known tale. He is loud and large and his booming laughs shock Pinocchio and children watching at home. I can remember watching the scenes in his caravan and getting very scared when he would frequently throw his weight around in such a compact space. When he observes Pinocchio’s ability as a talking, moving puppet who doesn’t require strings for his movements, he seizes him and uses him for personal monetary gain. He keeps Pinocchio in a wooden cage from which he cannot escape, and the juxtaposition between this corpulent bully and Pinocchio’s wiry frame accentuates his evil nature. The large earring and great big bushy beard (source: Hot Fuzz) do nothing to alter this perception.

Jafar – Aladdin (1992)

Jafar is the antithesis to the brave and honourable (at least in the end) Aladdin, and his constant desire for power and his anxious striving for authority make his actions cruel. His attire remains constant – that of a sorcerer in black and red – and his staff is shaped like a serpent. The cobra is a symbol commonly associated with wickedness and deceit, two qualities which are evidently practiced by this pretend adviser throughout the story. Visually his pointy beard and defined features contrast with the soft, handsome appearance of Aladdin. His ability to transform (into a Cobra and into a poor old cripple, to name but two) build up a sense of his evil characteristics, and he pretends to be faithful and lawful only in order that one day he might rule over Agrabah. The music that comes in when he is in the scenes suddenly changes to a darker and more sinister key, which confounds this view. He shows his true colours after finally usurping the Sultan, but his third wish, to become an omnipotent genie, leaves him locked inside the lamp for many, many years to come whilst the blue genie (befriended by Aladdin) gains his freedom.

Percival C. McLeach – The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Percival stars in a much less famous Disney film than the others I have mentioned in this list. ‘The Rescuers’ is a really top Disney movie that hasn’t received the attention it deserves, but there is absolutely no question that McLeach is an scary and evil character. His first appearance is on a Wanted poster in the Australian outback, which suggests that he has poached so often and with such devastating results that the authorities are out to catch him. At one point, he even sings to himself a chilling version of ‘Home on the Range’ about killing animals for enjoyment ( I’ll rip through their sides, and I’ll cut off their hides, and the next day I’ll do it again”). At times his face is not particularly ugly or freaky, but his intentions are clear as he tries to capture the giant golden eagle Marahute to sell her for money. Like so many Disney villains, his final flaw is his ambition for power and money. He meets his end when arrogantly believing that he has fought off some crocodiles at Croc Falls, only to disregard the massive waterfall behind him that is looming ever closer and from which the crocodiles have wisely attempted to flee.

Cruella de Vil – 101 Dalmations (1961)

Surely no list of evil Disney characters would be complete without a mention of Cruella. Her very name is a pun on the word ‘cruel’ and ‘devil’, and her elaborate coats made out of real fur are pretty disgusting (especially in our modern era that is even more against this practice than at the time when the film was made). She kills cute puppies, turning their coats into garments as a fashion statement. ‘I live for fur. I worship fur.’ Urgh – makes you cringe. She is evil! ‘Poison them, drown them, bash them on the head. Got any chloroform? I don’t care how you kill the little beasts. Just do it, and do it NOW!’ For Disney, which usually refrains from having absolutely malevolent characters, these are very harsh words! Although Horace and Jasper provide comic relief as her incompetent duo of workers, Cruella is one of the most evil of them all.

Scar – The Lion King (1994)Image of Scar the lion from The Lion King

Everything about this lion screams malfeasance. His desire to become King of the Pride engulfs him to such an extent that he sets up a rampage to kill his own brother. A real baddie, this one. Disney designed his face in such a way that he seemed slimy and suspicious from his very first entrance in the film. However, although he thinks he has broken any chance of Mufasa or his offspring ever regaining rule of the pride, Simba survives. His famous quote ‘Run far away, Simba, and never come back.’ His mocking tone and his employment of Zazu as his second in command makes him one of the most evil Disney characters ever to have been created. When, at a climactic moment in the film, he finds Simba and ridicules his helpless position (‘Simba, you’re in trouble again – but this time, Daddy isn’t here to save you’, he encourages spectators to loathe him with bitter hatred. The dramatic irony built up throughout the film, as we know he is evil from very near the beginning, sets him up as one of the most maleficent characters in animation history.

Updating the classics with an erotic twist

Pride and Prejudice rewritten with erotic, raunchy scenes in style of Fifty Shades of Grey

Reading classic literature may just have become sexy… literally. This is the news that, for better or worse, the erotic published Total E-Bound have decided to inject some erotic interest into classic fiction such as Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Jules Verne’s ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues

Under The Sea’. So, if you were left frustrated by the lack of a final chapter in which Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett’s sexual relations might have been described in great detail, then this new series of adorned Austen might just be for you.

The ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ effect?


Taking its cue, most probably, from the worldwide success of E.L. James’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, this remarkable idea has now become a reality after many years of critical speculation and discussion. The fantastic rise to fame of this modern trilogy (perhaps rather unjustly labelled ‘mummy porn’ by many commentators) has convinced the publishers that such titivated versions of well-known narratives might be a profitable venture.But such an effect raises many intriguing questions about the authority of literature itself. What right does any publisher have to take existing texts and refurbish them in any way they like? The person tasked with the job of rewriting these novels must be held accountable for each and every change. Ultimately, I fear, the hullabaloo that will undoubtedly surround this news for many months to come may well work in its favour, for controversy is a brilliant step towards exposure.

Issues that arise out of these releases

Martin Amis, amongst others, has expressed frustration at the – in his view, at least partially incomplete – endings of such novels as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and he postulates the idea of ‘a 20-page sex scene featuring the two principals’ that might supplement the present conclusion.

Fifty Shades of Grey erotic novel written by E. L. James


But surely this notion presupposes one essential (in my view, deeply flawed) belief: that readers would prefer to have the sexual tension that pervades these novels grasped and drawn out explicitly on the page. But perhaps the very fact that there is no obvious consummation of Darcy and Bennett’s relationship is somehow better than the alternative. Literature depends as much on reticence as on revelation, and if everything is publicised then it may well detract from the overall sense of mystery. A reader can decide and conjecture for themselves what happens beyond the end – an end that is not really an end, in other words.Classic fiction gets sexy

This publication will be considered a travesty by some die-hard, avid readers of classic fiction, and will be welcomed by others who have always wondered what might have happened. In the eBook era, where public transport is crammed full of people reading works of literature on hand-held devices, there is no longer any shame in reading a raunchy novel. The blank face on the back of a Kindle, for example, serves the function that the brown bags used to in the days immediatel
y after the release of D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Readers do not have to hide what they are reading, because the anonymity of the Kindle back cover does not give away what is being accessed at any given moment.

Some examples of the risqué additions

Let’s take a look at some of the changes that you can expect find:

In Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’, Catherine finds herself in ‘a whole new world of eroticism … where sex knows no boundaries’ when she encounters Henry and begins to engage with him. In Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, retitled ‘Jane Eyre Laid Bare’, Jane is informed that ‘My penis is hard. …That is what kissing you does to me. My body is filled with desire.’ Little is left to the imagination!

Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' given special treatment in new raunchy edition.But that’s just it: the imagination is hindered, and given everything explicitly. Literature does not have to be explicit (in its literal sense) and should not be rewritten just because someone is frustrated at an unexplored, or merely suggested, narrative tract.

The verdict on these erotic rewrites

So, read them if you want to, but don’t be disappointed if you find a clumsy break in the development of a paragraph where the second author has interrupted the original to inject some erotic interest. The prevalence of reader-response theories in critical readings of fiction nowadays has gone some way to making us more aware of an individual’s approach to a work of literature. This should alert us to the fact that many interpretations – some erotic, some not so – are not just possible, but resoundingly valid. If you think that Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship should have been more sexual, or at least more clearly so in the book, then use your imagination to envisage it! There is so much more to that eventual bond than sex, and it should not be reduced to that level simply to appease some minds.

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With the dramatic rise to prominence of the Kindle, and with software such as iBooks and Stanza now close at hand in our digital age, are we to admit that we are turning over the page to the final chapter for books? Here are some very interesting ideas to consider regarding this topical debate.

Interesting ideas about the Kindle

I have tried to use a Kindle in the past and have found it immensely frustrating not to be able to write on what I am reading when I come to something particularly important or interesting. I like to write in my books and although it is possible with an eReader to highlight an area of text and save it to your profile, in my view this will never beat pencil on paper. Moreover, when I am reading a book, be it a novel, play or poem, I am constantly aware of how far through the work I am at a particular moment. This sense of progression is emulated to a certain extent with digital books, in that there is a percentage in the top right hand corner of the screen, but this once again does not live up to scratch. To say that I am 19% through a book does not have the sense of personal interaction with a text as a general feel of the printed pages and it makes it seem like a goal to finish – to get to 100%. I do not want to conquer the book; I want to engage with it.

eBooks vs the printed word

The Internet is full of uploads and downloads with these percentages, and the only thing on our mind when we see these numbers is to get it over and done with so that we can concentrate on the rest. I don’t need to know that I am 19% of the way through; just a rough and non-numerical indication of how far through the text I am. When reading a novel (say you’re on page 156, for instance), you know that before you (I envisage a picture of the words being contained further left than the left-hand page you are reading, always accessible), you can find the words you have just read. They are always there and you can flick back to them whenever you wish to clarify something or jog your memory. But with an eReader there is no sense of this continuous trail coming in from the left (outside of the page) and arriving at the sentence you are on. When I turn a page on an eReader I do not feel as though I am progressing and following the story. Every word is captured within this Kindle and I get the impression that each page is in effect a superposition of one onto the other, rather than an actual movement (although of course the book is not actually in motion) from left to right.

Do we read ‘better’ with eBook readers?

Whilst I appreciate that eReaders allow us to take a library of books with us on the go at once, I am critical of whether this is useful or helpful. Even on holiday, I only need to take a maximum of about 3 or 4 books with me at one time, which whilst taking up more space than one sole Kindle is not a great burden to bear. I would bet that the vast majority of Kindle readers right now on the go will read no more than one book between the time they leave their home and the time they return to it. Once again, we arrive at the issue of reading too quickly or too superficially. When we have a whole library of books in our hand, we want to get through as many as possible in the shortest space of time.

Interesting ideas about eReaders

If I go out with one book and I finish it whilst out, I will reread certain passages or I will reflect on what I have read before launching into another fictional world. In my opinion, many eReader users finish a book and then move on to the next one without much time for pensive contemplation or rigorous analysis. Of course, the experience of reading can be purely hedonistic, and I am not condemning those who read without being critical of the text before them, but it strikes me that the wealth of textual material available to devour on a Kindle leads readers to neglect their capacity for profound examination of a single one.

Observations on life: digital books vs printed books

On the other hand, we must accept that there are some major advantages of the Kindle over a physical book. Although it is not as easy as it could be right at the moment, given time it will become incredibly straightforward to look up a glossary or an index which will be fantastic for reference books and textbooks. Yet I simply cannot envisage a time, even in decades and decades, when there will be no books. Digital books have their uses, but I cannot imagine a new publication not being printed as a physical book. As Alan Bennett notes in The Uncommon Reader, writing from the mindset of the Queen who has stumbled into a library and discovered the joys of reading: “Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.” But digital books really do care. Books on Kindles are packed with ratings, percentages, figures, comments, reviews. In contrast, whilst might get a price tag on the back of a novel, but we soon scratch that off and we are on our way.

Conclusions to the debate

Many people may well prefer eReaders, but there will always be a large number who will stick to physical books. It is without a doubt a challenge to their authority, but this is not the death of books. It’s not even their final chapter. Books will prevail and will not be overcome. They may not actually care ‘who (is) reading them or whether one read(s) them or not”, but they will continue to be read, over and over again, by readers who, despite the advancements of the digital age, simply prefer the organic experience of meeting a printed book with whose experiences s/he can suffer, communicate, and interact.

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The London riots: when it all started

Whilst serving customers at the restaurant where I work at 6.30 one Monday evening a few months ago, the door suddenly burst open and a police officer, gasping for breath, told us that the London rioters were moving towards our location in Mile End. We quickly packed away the drinks behind the bar and anything of value and our manager told us to go home then and there. This was during the London riots, a distant memory for some but a critical issue that will continue to rear its ugly head for many years to come. But this got me thinking. Why do people riot? Can riots ever bring about positive change? And what transforms an isolated feeling of resentment or anger into full-blown unrest all across London?

Is rioting ever justified?

Whilst discussing this recently with a friend of mine, she argued that were I of the same socio-economic background as the rioters, with (at least ostensibly) no clear prospects of success in any walk of life, I may well have been roped into the violence as well. But is this really the case? If you were walking past Clarks or Topshop one evening and you saw that the shop window was smashed in, would you be tempted to grab a handbag or that nice pair of shoes from the TV ad and walk off nonchalantly?

Can we forgive the London rioters?

Personally I believe that no matter what background or opportunities for social mobility you might have, the act of rioting is appalling and deserves punishment. There is a Facebook group I saw recently entitled “I don’t riot, burn down my city and cause harm to innocent people”, and I think we must accept that the whole Mark Duggan incident cannot be used as an excuse for the criminality that ensued. A climate of fear is created that does not change anything and rioting is without a doubt the wrong way to make a difference and to make a political statement.

Conclusions on the London riots

Some people believe that the punishments for the rioters are overly harsh, but their actions are intolerable and reprehensible. Whilst I can never guarantee that, were I born into a different socio-economic background, I would not have participated in the London riots, I would like to think that some form of personal ethics comes in to it as well. The situations when rioting might be justified are very extreme, much more extreme than those that were experienced between 6 and 10 August 2011. Regardless of whether it was a rash and unthinking deed by someone who does not usually commit these sorts of crimes, rioting, in my opinion, is totally unacceptable. Do you agree?

English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and it is made no easier by the fact that many famous brand names in the UK are terribly confusing. Let me give you some examples.

Situation #1:

Imagine yourself as a foreigner who visits England for the first time. You might know a couple of words… you might know a hundred. You might even have studied English at school and be proficient in the language. You disembark the plane, go into customs and out into the arrivals hall. And suddenly you realise, ‘O no, I have forgotten my boots!’ (It is winter, you see). You have remembered only to bring one pair of sandals and you have seen that it is raining outside. Out of the corner of your eye you spot the perfect place: ‘Boots’. You hop over, pass through the automatic doors, and what do you find? Not boots, that’s for sure. Cosmetics, toothpaste, shampoo… Any native Englishman or woman knows (seemingly by an innate intuition) that Boots is not the place to go for footwear, and yet it is easy to see how the mistake could be made. Similarly, someone going into ‘Superdrug’ could be very surprised to find that it does not sell what it says on the tin!

Situation #2:

Once again, during your trip to the nation’s capital, you feel like a trip to the zoo. You have heard that Great Britain has a great selection of wildlife parks and you want to check them out. Walking through the shopping centre one day, however, you read on the map that there must be a zoo area inside! Rushing over as quickly as possible, you can’t contain your excitement as you tell all your friends to come and see the animals! Rounding the corner you are zooming along, knocking shoppers all over the place, and you finally find it. No trace of any animals. No worries, you tell yourself, they’re probably just inside. Refusing to be down heartened, you hurry through the entrance and all you find are clothes. Is this some kind of sick joke?, you ask yourself. You find a worker and you ask her what on earth is going on.

“This is Peacocks, sir.”

Situation #3:

Let’s consider for a moment that you are a foreigner who is renting an apartment in the UK. You return from work, go into the kitchen to start the cooking, open the fridge and you discover that all of your  kitchen appliances have broken down. You go into Oxford Street thinking that somewhere on this famous street you will surely be able to find what you are looking for. Suddenly you spot it – the perfect place.

Selfridges.

And what does it sell?

Everything, literally everything, apart from fridges. Baffling.

TV Show The Apprentice

I love The BBC show ‘The Apprentice’. I am not ashamed to admit that, despite its crass, clichéd and heavily edited nature, this primetime television series is genuinely addictive. Yet there is one element of the show that I can neither reconcile nor forgive, no matter how many times its alluring mixture of professionalism and hyperbole draws me in. This is simply the fact that Lord Sugar (I preferred Sir Alan, personally) continually harps on about his preference for integrity and for those contestants who ‘say it how it is’. He often talks about ‘conciseness’ and ‘succinctness’, always using both words and sometimes more – often in their adjectival form – to mean the same thing, thus showing himself to be long-winded and contradicting himself through the very words he is using in order to emphasise the exact opposite.

The Apprentice Contestants

What’s more, he then lets the participators give their convoluted opinions on why he should keep them in the ‘process’ (their favourite word on the show, because it somehow suggests a positive and rewarding learning curve that the combative ‘contest’ or ‘competition’ does not imply). How many times do we hear the same responses? I think I was the best seller; I have shown myself to be very competent and determined; I have performed extremely well on each task… How does he not get fed up with these repetitive phrases? Does he actually glean anything of interest from these uninspiring and clichéd answers? Every episode the word ‘passionate’ crops up almost every minute, and it strikes me that the whole idea of the dramatic boardroom scenario that concludes each instalment is rather too gaudy and tedious to be considered an accurate measure of the performance of each individual.

My Opinion on The Apprentice

During this year’s ‘Junior Apprentice’, a trend was clearly evident that involved contestants continually praising their own skills that were supposedly manifest on the errands they were sent on. Regardless of the bare facts of their achievements, Lord Sugar simply likes this so-called ‘determination’ and ‘enthusiasm’, which seems altogether vacuous to me. Countless times he kept in the participant who aggrandized his or her accomplishments whilst criticising that of his or her peers. Whilst I am not against this in the slightest, and I value passion just as much as the next person (another cliché, I realise), the eventual winner (whose name escapes me) was saved one week simply because she said something like ‘I didn’t do very well on this task, but I would prefer to get involved and make mistakes than to not get involved at all’, and then proceeded to condemn the contribution of the subsequently-fired contestant. Whilst there is a certain truth in this, it seems inane once again and it becomes apparent that blindly bulldozing your way through the programme is the most profitable approach to adopt. When Lord Sugar asks the contestants to explain why he should not fire them, the responses (for those who stay in) are always the same. Next time it’s on, take a look for yourself.

The Apprentice Finale

Having said all that, I must praise the contenders who participated in this year’s ‘Junior Apprentice’. Some of their ideas, particularly for the video game and accompanying viral video, were absolutely fantastic. Moreover, I believe that were the top half of them to be entered into the adult version of the show, they would perform admirably. I am not trying to denounce the programme completely (indeed, as I have already stated, I watch it religiously); however, it becomes much too predictable at times and Lord Sugar definitely needs to give up his absurd desire for brevity in speech, made pardadoxical by the qualities he seemingly commends in the contestants.

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Ideas - very interesting ones :)