Tag Archives: structure

“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell

CloudAtlas

This book has been on my shelf for a little while. My friend Brian gave it to me, which was great because I wanted to read it anyway. I had seen the film, which was very good, so the book was already on my list of books to read. Anyway, I started reading it while on my trip to Israel and just finished it last week. My computer was in the shop, so hence, I am just now getting around to writing about it.

The book is amazing! It’s a thoroughly engrossing allegory of the cycles of stories, mythology, and resurrection, all woven together to symbolize the interconnectedness between lives and events. The books is comprised of six stories, which are all connected; but the structure of the book is circular, representing the cycles of rebirth. Here is the overall structure:

  1. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (part 1)
  2. Letters from Zedelghem (part 1)
  3. Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (part 1)
  4. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (part 1)
  5. An Orison of Sonmi-451 (part 1)
  6. Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After
  7. An Orison of Sonmi-451 (part 2)
  8. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (part 2)
  9. Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (part 2)
  10. Letters from Zedelghem (part 2)
  11. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (part 2)

In addition to the structure of the books representing eternal cycles, the story itself is rich with symbolism supporting this idea. One of the central symbols is the comet-shaped birthmark that appears on the central characters. On one hand, this represents that they are essentially reincarnated beings, all of whom share the same soul. But the comet is also a symbol of cycles, since comets travel a circular route through the heavens and reappear at regular intervals. Finally, a comet is fleeting and temporary, just like our lives. But our lives, like our myths and stories, come around and reappear again, just as the comet does.

In addition to the comet, Mitchell uses clouds as symbols for the soul, stressing that although they are constantly changing form, they are in essence eternal, just as the soul is.

I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o’ that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.

(p. 308)

Mitchell also includes references to theology regarding cycles of rebirth, such as the following reference to Buddhist ideology.

Keep looking, he said, and from the mountainside emerged the carved features of a cross-legged giant. One slender hand was raised in a gesture of grace. Weaponry and elements had strafed, ravaged, and cracked his features, but his outline was discernible if you knew where to look. I said the giant reminded me of Timothy Cavendish, making Hae-Joo Im smile for the first time in a long while. He said the giant was a deity that offered salvation from a meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth, and perhaps the cracked stonework still possessed a lingering divinity. Only the inanimate can be so alive. I suppose QuarryCorp will destroy him when they get around to processing those mountains.

(pp. 328 – 329)

As much as I hate spoilers, I must include a minor one here, so feel free to skip this last section of the post if needed. One of the characters, Robert Frobisher, is about to commit suicide. In his note, he explains how he will be reborn, how his soul is eternal, and how everything that existed and passed away will eventually come around again. It’s an amazing passage and one that I feel is fitting to end this post.

Luger here. Thirteen minutes to go. Feel trepidation, naturally, but my love for this coda is stronger. An electrical thrill that, like Adrian, I know I am to die. Pride, that I shall see it through. Certainties. Strip back the beliefs pasted on by governesses, schools, and states, you find indelible truths at one’s core. Rome’ll decline and fall again, Cortés’ll lay Tenochtitlán to waste again, and later, Ewing will sail again. Adrian’ll be blown to pieces again, you and I’ll sleep under Corsican stars again, I’ll come to Bruges again, fall in and out of love with Eva again, you’ll read this letter again, the sun’ll grow cold again. Nietzsche’s gramophone record. When it ends, the Old One plays it again, for an eternity of eternities.

Time cannot permeate this sabbatical. We do not stay dead long. Once my Luger lets me go, my birth, next time around, will be upon me in a heartbeat. Thirteen years from now we’ll meet again at Gersham, ten years later I’ll be back in this same room, holding the same gun, composing this same letter, my resolution as perfect as my many-headed sextet. Such eloquent certainties comfort me at this quiet hour.

(pp. 470 – 471)

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Wytches: Issue 4

Wytches_04

This comic continues to deliver quality psychological horror. In this issue, as Sailor’s parents continue searching for her, it seems like their grip on sanity is beginning to slip. The creative team does something that works really well. They splice together fragments of storyline to instill a sense of confusion. As I read through this, I felt like Sailor, trapped in a dark space surrounded by macabre images, struggling to get out, but unable to. All the while, unable to shake the feeling of fear and dread.

I feel like I should be writing more about this issue, but frankly, I am at a loss for words. Probably because, for me, the issue is more about creating a sense of fear as opposed to telling a narrative tale, so while the story is progressing, for me, the story is overshadowed by the feeling that the images and structure of the comic evoke. For me, that’s the real artistry in this graphic series.

If you are following this tale, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Doctor Who – Eleventh Doctor: Issue 6

DoctorWho_06

This is a somewhat interesting read. The story is reversed, so it begins at the end and the page numbers sequentially decrease. At first I thought I needed to start at the back of the issue and read right to left, but that didn’t work. So I scrapped that approach and started at the end (beginning?) and read it left to right. This is the correct order and you will notice clues in the story letting you know you are reading it correctly.

I like that the writers took a chance and did something daring with the structure of this tale. At first it was frustrating, trying to figure it out, but now I appreciate it.

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“The Song of the Old Mother” by William Butler Yeats

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Since today is the Winter Solstice, I thought this would be the perfect poem to read and contemplate.

I rise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow
Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow;
And then I must scrub and bake and sweep
Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;
And the young lie long and dream in their bed
Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head,
And their days go over in idleness,
And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress:
While I must work because I am old,
And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.

As the cycle of the year reaches the longest night and darkness dominates, the Goddess is manifest as the Crone, or the old mother. All the world and all of creation sleeps through the long winter night, waiting to be reborn. The Crone rises at dawn to kindle the “seed of the fire,” symbolizing the beginning of a new cycle and the rebirth of light.

The poem is composed of five couplets, or ten lines. As an initiate into the Golden Dawn, Yeats would have been aware of the mystical significance of the number ten, particularly in regard to the kabbalistic Tree of Life. According to kabbalah, all existence is formed from the ten sefirot. Because this poem is comprised of ten lines, Yeats was implying that the rebirth of the Goddess and the rebirth of light correlates with the rebirth of all existence, that all of creation is rekindled on the Winter Solstice.

The last thing I would like to point out regarding this poem is the couplet that structurally forms the very center of the poem (lines 5 and 6). I see two meanings here. The surface meaning is that humanity and Nature are both at rest, sleeping through the long night. Note that bed refers to both a place of rest for a person as well as the soil in a garden, from which new life will grow in the spring. But this couplet also symbolizes the two other forms of the Goddess: the Maiden and the Mother. In the spring, the Goddess is reborn as the Maiden and will be adorned with the colorful ribbons symbolic of spring.

On this longest night of the year, may the light be rekindled within you and may it burn brightly throughout the coming year. Blessed be!

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

This is the final episode and is a long internal soliloquy depicting Molly Bloom’s thoughts as she is in bed after Leopold returns home. The episode is comprised of eight long sentences and is all stream of consciousness. Much of Molly’s thoughts are sexual: memories of past affairs, her current liaison with Blazes Boylan, her suspicions regarding Leopold Bloom’s clandestine sexual encounters, and her early days with Bloom. The language is beautiful and should really be read to be felt. I am not going to attempt to analyze the text from this episode; instead, I will discuss the structure of the episode, its symbolism, and how it ties in to the overall structure and larger theme of the book. I will preface this by saying that these are my interpretations. Feel free to use them, just include me in the citation.

The first thing to note about Episode 18 is that it opens and closes with the same word: “Yes.” I see this as symbolic for a circle, implying that there is an eternal cycle associated with the episode. Considering that Joyce employs the same technique in Finnegan’s Wake, where the book begins mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence, I would argue that he is doing the same here. In fact, I would take this a step further and assert that Episode 18 is a circle within a circle and that the entire book is intended to be viewed as cyclical. Remember back to the beginning with the large S. The letter S is also the last letter in the book. I feel that Joyce structured the book to represent the eternal circle of existence: birth, life, death, rebirth. There are certainly an abundance of references and allusions throughout the text hinting at this, whether it is all the talk about metempsychosis or the circles cast upon the ceiling as Bloom and Molly lay together, or the circles of stars. Images of circles and cycles permeate this book.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

The myth is eternal. The story which Homer put forth in the Odyssey is one that has been repeated throughout history and will continue to be repeated as long as humans exist. It is an archetypal story and Joyce knew that. With that in mind, he made his version a modern interpretation of the myth.

In addition to the cyclical structure of the book, I believe that Joyce also included number mysticism within the structure of the book. Let’s break this down a bit. The book is split into 3 sections and contains 18 chapters. First we will consider the importance of the number 3. Obviously, 3 would represent the trinity. It also represents the three stages of life: birth, life, death. It symbolizes the father (Bloom), mother (Molly), and child (Stephen). In addition, each section begins with a large letter: S, M, and P, respectively. I see here another mystical trilogy: Spirit, Mortal, Psyche (although, some scholars have also associated with the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Poldy [nickname for Bloom]). I could go on like this for a long time, but I think you get the idea.

Now let’s think about the number 18. First off, if we were to apply kabbalistic numerology to this (and remember, Bloom is Jewish), we get 1+8 which equals 9, which in turn is 3×3, or a double trinity. At this point you may be thinking that this is a stretch, but stay with me, because it gets deeper. In the Jewish faith, the number 18 has another important aspect. It is the numeric representation of the Hebrew word chai (pronounced “hi”). The English translation for chai is “life.” I believe that Joyce consciously chose to make Ulysses 18 episodes because the book is the perfect representation of life, with all its recurring themes.

I have to say that I feel somewhat sad that I am finished. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bloom and Stephen personally. I also really got a lot more out of the book reading it a second time. So will I read it a third time? Maybe. I’ll certainly keep my copy. I hope you enjoyed the posts and if you haven’t read along, I encourage you to spend the effort and read it one day. I personally think it is worth it.

Cheers!!


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

Episode 17

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“Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats

YeatsOlder

Generally, I avoid including the full text from longer poems in my posts and will instead provide a link to the online version, but “Sailing to Byzantium” deserves to be included in full. I decided to include each of the four stanzas and offer my interpretation of each stanza before moving on to the next one.

I
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.

In the opening stanza, there are two things happening here. On one level, Yeats is expressing his disillusionment with the people of Ireland. The younger generations do not appear to appreciate Ireland’s ancient heritage, nor are they interested in the noble pursuit of poetry. But in addition to that, Yeats is hinting at something deeper and infinitely more mystical, which will be unveiled later in the poem. It has to do with resurrection mythology. For now, just keep the images of old men, young people, dying generations, and trees in the back of your mind.

II
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

Here Yeats asserts that an old man is worthless, unless that aged individual possesses the ability to create poetry. And it must be poetry infused with mystical power, poetry that comes from a source that is divine of nature. In order to tap into that source, Yeats plunges himself into his subconscious mind, symbolized by the “seas,” and navigates those seas of consciousness until he reaches the mystical realm represented by the city of Byzantium.

There is a reason why Yeats chose Byzantium as the symbol for the mystical source of his poetry. In addition to being the center of classical thought in the late Hellenistic period, Byzantium had adopted the occult symbol of the star and crescent moon as their emblem. This was a result of their devotion to Hecate, whom the Byzantines believed was protecting them. (source: Wikipedia) As a practicing member of the Golden Dawn, Yeats would have viewed this connection as important, since Hecate is the goddess who is believed to endow magicians with power and knowledge.

III
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

There is a lot happening in the third stanza. The holy fire is mentioned twice, so the importance is being stressed. There are layers of symbolism here. First, the holy fire represents the spark of life, creation itself. It is also illumination and enlightenment. Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, is the association with rebirth and regeneration, like that of the phoenix. The dying god spins within the gyre of flame, preparing to reemerge as a reborn god. As the god is dying and being consumed by the holy flames, the mystic bards sing the verses of the sacred poetry which will help bring about the rebirth of the dying god.

At this point, you may be thinking that my interpretation is a bit of a stretch, but reserve judgment until you read the final stanza.

IV
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

GoldenBoughHere we have the key to the poem, which is the golden bough. Yeats would certainly have been very familiar with Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Frazer’s book is the quintessential work exploring the mythology of resurrection and the dying god. So the god does not take his “bodily form from any natural thing,” but instead comes from the realm of forms as expressed by the Platonic school of thought. All the golden imagery in this stanza evokes the image of the sacred king, which is the term that Frazer uses regarding the archetypal image of the dying/reborn god. The cycle is eternal; it encompasses “what is past, or passing, or to come.” The imagery from the first stanza of the old men (dying god), young people (reborn god), and trees  (symbols of rebirth) are all brought together.

The last thing I would like to point out about the poem is the overall structure. The poem is divided into four stanzas. I feel that this was an intentional representation of the four seasons, which is also symbolic of the overall theme of the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

The first time I read this poem in college I didn’t get it, but I remember my professor saying that the more you read poetry, the more you will learn to appreciate Yeats. I’ve come to the point in my life where I feel like I can finally start to fully appreciate the scope of what Yeats accomplished as a poet.

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“The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare

MerchantOfVeniceWhile in college, I wrote my senior honor’s thesis on the subject of “Order and Authority in Shakespearean Comedy.” As a result, I had read The Merchant of Venice many times and analyzed the importance of written law during the Elizabethan period. But, it had been quite a long time since I read the play, hence I decided to read it again.

If you are not familiar with the play, the first thing you should know is that it’s not very funny. Comedy, in the Shakespearean sense, is based upon structure, not humor. Pretty much, if people get married at the end, it’s a comedy; if everyone dies, it’s a tragedy. In this play, no one dies and there is marriage at the end, but don’t expect to laugh while reading this. It’s not at all like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Comedy of Errors.

As I read it this time, I really focused on Shylock and how he is portrayed in the text. There is ambiguity here. On one hand, it appears that Shakespeare was presenting Shylock in a way that would make the audience pity him; on the other hand, he also portrays him as despicable. The result is that if one is prejudiced against Jewish people, Shylock will fit the stereotype and support that person’s antisemitic ideas. Conversely, if one feels that Jews are mistreated, that person will also find support in the text.

First, I will cite an example that supports the negative stereotype. In the following passage, Shylock is depicted as caring more about his money than his daughter.

Why, there, there, there, there! a diamond gone,
cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfort! The curse
never fell upon our nation till now; I never felt it
till now: two thousand ducats in that; and other
precious, precious jewels. I would my daughter
were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!
would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in
her coffin!
Act III: scene i

Contrast that to the way the Christians in the play treat Shylock. First off, they rarely call him by his name, but generally address him as “the Jew” with a derogatory slur attached. There are also examples of abuse that Shylock suffers by the Christians.

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
‘Shylock, we would have moneys:’ you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Act I: scene iii

There is one last quote I would like to point out. During the trail where Shylock seeks his pound of flesh, he is urged to show mercy and forgive the bond. Shylock then points out the hypocrisy of the fact that the Venetians in the court are slave owners who do not practice the same forgiveness that they are urging from him.

What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs?
Why sweat they under burthens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours and let their palates
Be season’d with such viands? You will answer
‘The slaves are ours:’ so do I answer you:
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it.
Act IV: scene i

While I have read this play numerous times, I have not seen it performed. This summer, a local Shakespeare troupe — The Montford Park Players — will be putting on the play. I am curious to see how they will interpret this controversial play. I will certainly be in attendance.

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