All posts by Cecilia

IRJE: November 14 (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy science fiction written by Douglas Adams, published in London in 1979. The story starts with the demolition of Arthur Dent’s shabby house and soon after, the earth. His alien friend Ford Prefect rescues Arthur and hitchhikes into the spaceship of the Vogons, who were responsible for the destruction of the planet. While hiding in the ship, Ford reveals his identity as the researcher for the legendary book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a book that sells better than the Encyclopedia Galactica. The book provides information about every planet and species in the universe. Arthur wanted to see the section that described the earth. 

“What? Harmless? Is that all it’s got to say? Harmless! One word!”(p.36) 

This part of the book is brilliant. It serves as a wise section of comedy that conveniently breaks the limitations of the book’s universe. Under the layer of humour, the author delivers a more heartfelt message. It tells us how the author feels about the world. No matter how significant the event, no matter the change, it resembles very little in the infinity of the universe. The year he was born was not very far from the years of atrocities such as war. He sees things in a very calm and sincere perspective, and when added to his humour, it creates entertaining chemistry that makes this book very fun to read. 

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PW:

The obese creature stood stiffly on the empty platform. Behind it laid a transparent bridge, a passageway from the other side, the magnificent shore.
It must have been an enormous creature, as the bridge looked tiny in comparison. It was sickly pink and fluffy at first glance, with a retarded, crooked smirk on its puffy face. It was a living roadblock, how stupid and ignorant it is, to sit its ginormous body in front of somewhere extraordinary, having no purpose at all.

But I was proved wrong. From up close, it was really just a tiny little thing, yet it had seemed ginormous from a distance. I could easily step on its squeaky little face.

And so I did. It was smashed against the marble floor and had dissolved into a pile of sticky residue. The thickness of its material under my feet felt like the squishing of a tiny insect. It was too insignificant to satisfy me.

I walked towards the other side. The smooth texture of the silver shore seemed so desirable for me.
But there was nothing on the other side. Under its attractive packaging, it was unforgivably empty, and being empty is worse than being coarse. It was unfortunate, dull and frustrating. How could I have desired such a useless, endless and tiresome silence?

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Reflection on War

WWI was the first war that had involved many countries and had more lasting consequences than any other wars in history. WWI killed more than 9 million soldiers and 6 million civilians, leaving 7 million men permanently disabled. It had resulted in the decline of monarchies in Russia, Austria, Hungary, Germany, and Turkey. It has also shattered the development of peace, which had lasted for 100 years before WWI.

The Remembrance day started after WWI ended. Although people celebrated it, WWII still happened. The way we choose to remember the wars tells us about the values of our society. Typically, we remember wars because we want to honour those who have lost their lives in war. We also recognize that the country needs people to continue to offer themselves forward to fight in the future. But this does not serve our world forwards, because it suggests that the military is ready to serve its next sacrifice, and does little to prevent future wars.

We should remember past wars for unity and peace. To prevent future conflicts, we need to reflect on how each war had thrust up entirely unexpected and dreading consequences to the participating generation. During the inception of WWI, people were stirred up about the grand beliefs of romantic national glory. The poem: “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke portrays death for England as a glorious, noble end:

” If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.”

Other patriotic poems, such as “In Flanders Fields” and “Marching Men” resemble the themes of Remembrance day. They tend to focus on the noble sacrifices that the soldiers made for their countries. For example:

“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw the torch;
be yours to hold it high.” (In Flanders Fields by John McRae)

These lines encourage the continuity of nationalism and emphasize the proudness to serve in the army.

The endless trench wars in WWI shattered those ideas. In the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul and his schoolmates were persuaded to enlist in the German army by their patriotic schoolmaster, only to find that the war is not romantic at all.

“We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action, but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left.” (p.13) It shows that as much as Paul and the other soldiers loved their country, the avoidable trauma from the war due to patriotism was unforgivable. Their experiences in the war had destroyed their values as schoolboys, and they “have become a wasteland.” (p.20)

WWI poetry had also reflected upon this change of attitudes towards war. An example would be “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. The poem uses many stanzas to describe gruesome scenes of the war. It ends with:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro-Patria Mori.”

This sentence leaves a lasting impact, especially if you compare it with the earlier WWI poems. We can also connect this difference with All Quiet on the Western Front. The novel shows us to war from the perspective of a young man who has experienced and witnessed war. It is the same perspective as the narrator of Dulce et Decorum Est. The patriotic views are from people like the schoolmaster Kantorek and John McRae. The contrast between the literature produced from different perspectives shows that we might never relate to the veterans from the wars.

Just as no one saw the consequences of trench warfare and bombardment, WWII started when no one could predict the effects of using nuclear weapons. The significant forces believed that they were capable of combat and had taken stands. But the Holocaust and the invention of atomic bombs had startled the world. There will be no doubt that if WWIII happens, it will consist of conventional, nuclear, cyber, drones, and other unknown technologies to once again pull the development of human history into the wrong path. We can never underestimate what the future will look like, and because of this, we need to remember what the previous wars have told us.

The most obvious ways to prevent wars are diplomacy and arms control because war is a social phenomenon that arises from decisions made by political and military leaders.

Therefore, it’s essential to be educated about the roots of conflict and to question the rationalities. I think having a democratic government is an advantage because the press and the public are informed about all decisions. Another great strategy we can use is to address the awareness of climate change. I think that the emergence of popular cultures is also an excellent barrier for conflicts to happen because the generation is more open to other cultures. We live in a society more capable of receiving information, so we can exercise our abilities to evaluate the information we collect. We are more conscious of our thoughts, and we are less likely to be influenced by the blindness of propaganda. The acceptance of diversity and confidence in expressing our identities are also beneficial. We are capable of sharing our thoughts on social media, and make a stand for our preferences. If Paul and his schoolmates were able to reject serving the army, and no one would criticize them, the war wouldn’t happen as soon as people learned the cruelty and trauma enforced to the soldiers.

Trauma is a significant theme in this unit. The short story “soldiers home,” written by Ernest Hemingway, expresses it as an effect shown through the resolution of the war. After Krebs returns from the war, he is helplessly disconnected from everyone else in the town and rejects establishing any connections with others.

“He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn’t worth it.” (p.3) The barriers between individuals could not be more distant by lies. He is unable to connect his true self with anyone.

The isolation from others also manifests itself in All quiet on the western front: In chapter 7, Paul receives a 14-day break, and he returns home to visit his family.

“But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world.” (p.168) He feels unable to connect to his past life, and all he has left is the war. They both share a lack of desire to communicate with other people. When Kreb’s mother asks him if he loves her, he says: “I don’t love anybody.” (p.9)

Soldiers’ homes didn’t express the details of the war. In all quiet on the western front, it includes many aspects of the gruesomeness of the war. Looking back on history, we might be all too concerned with the significant patterns of things and forget about the rather simple and straightforward facts. The pure horror of destruction, elimination, and devastation caused by poison gas, armoured tanks, and shell bombardments should take into account.

The pamphlet that I read from the class was “Canada Netherlands Pays-Bas Nederland.” The participation of Canadian soldiers in the liberation of the Netherlands contributed an end to WWII. Similar to remembrance day, it talks about Canadian soldiers that died for the freedom to happen. An official bill passed the remembrance day by the Canadian Parliament in 1921, but it doesn’t only serve the purpose of remembering the ones who die for the nation in WWI, but also in all other wars. Many Canadian soldiers sacrificed their lives for this purpose, and thus Canada recognizes Remembrance Day.

But something feels quite off about the celebration of Remembrance day, especially if you connect it to the literature of WWI.

A remembrance day ceremony should change the core concept of mourning those who sacrificed into alerting the cruelty of the war. Instead of reading patriotic and honouring poems such as “In Flanders Fields,” I think it is better to read poems such as “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” Instead of remembering their deaths as the noble sacrifices for the country, we should not forget it as a horrific mass murder. If we look at the structure of “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” we can see that it suits perfectly for this purpose. The poem is an iambic pentameter because there are mostly five stressed syllables in a row. However, there are a few lines that do not follow this pattern, and it creates an uneasy sense for the reader. For example:

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.” (line2) In this line, we can find four stressed syllables, which disrupts the smooth delivery it would have as iambic pentameter. If we connect this to the short story and the novel, we might realize how we are never able to relate to veterans truly. For example:

“They feel it, but always with only half of themselves, the rest of their being is taken up with other things, they are so divided in themselves that none feels it with his whole essence.” (All Quiet on the Western Front p.169)

The above example is precisely why the importance of Remembrance day seems a bit slanted for me. If I were to organize a ceremony, it would take place at a graveyard. The pamphlet I read includes many cemeteries around the world that serve peace for soldiers (p.24). However, I would want patriotic signs excluded from the ceremony, but instead to only focus on the trauma of the war and the importance of preventing it. This is because any involvement for nationalism in topics of wars suggests the support of the military. There should be two speeches given. The authorities of the government should hold one. It should be about the desire for peace and the stance against war. Then I want to invite a veteran who would tell us their story. I would exclude the red poppies, as it resembles the patriotism from the poem In Flanders Fields.

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IRJE: November 1st (Crime and Punishment)

Crime and Punishment, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is about the physical and mental struggles of Raskolnikov, a former student who madly murders an old pawnbroker and is overwhelmed by feelings of guilt. He returns to his room after the murder and anxiously checks for traces of blood. Then he hides the items he stole from the pawnbroker in haste and becomes frustrated with himself. The servant of his landlady wakes him up the next morning and tells him that he is summoned to the police station. Although it is unlikely that the police will suspect him for the murder, he is extremely worried.

If they question me, perhaps I’ll simply tell,” he thought, as he drew near the police station.” (p.77)

It is interesting to see how his thoughts can change so fast. He is defeated by guilt after the murder and made an effort destroying the evidence. However, I think that he almost hopes for the police to question him about the murder so that he wouldn’t need to keep it all to himself. He gave himself an instant boost of courage. This sentence also indicates the following plot. It tells us that Raskolnikov will eventually confess his crime. This makes me think that Raskolnikov would be in a much better situation if he had someone that he trusts. But that is a luxury, and Raskolnikov was impoverished.

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blog post: All Quiet On The Western Front

The revolutionary war novel  All Quiet On The Western Front was written by the German soldier Eric Maria Remarque and published in 1928, ten years after the end of WWI. The book revolves around Paul Baumer, who is a German soldier of the age of 19, that fights amongst his comrades in the trench warfares against the French army in WWI. The soldiers had soon came to realize that the war isn’t glorious or romantic at all. They were taunted from it as their past lives were torn away from them and they were left with the agonizing experiences of the war. In chapter 4, the second company soldiers took cover during a bombardment after placing barbed wires at the front. When the attack was over, they had heard the taunting cries of the wounded horses. They found it unbearable and the horses’ sufferings came to an end when they were killed. 

Detering walks up and down cursing: “Like to know what harm they’ve done.” He returns to it once again. His voice is agitated, it sounds almost dignified as he says: “I tell you it is the vilest baseness to use horses in the war.” (p. 64) 

This quote shows that Detering sympathizes more with the horses than for humans. They have witnessed countless gruesome deaths as soldiers, and have grown more immune to it so long as they don’t think about it too much. However, they have failed to do so when they heard the wounded horses. Remarque described it as the “moaning of the world”. (p.62) The screams of the innocent and humble creatures are the most penetrating, and though they were referred to as “beasts” (p. 63), this was only because of the pain inflicted by the war. 

This part of the book was very impactful for me. Humans were known to have a strong link with (domestic) animals since the Stone Age. Soldiers were typically said to have a strong bond towards warhorses, the same with the police with guard dogs, and the disabled with the service animals. Unlike humans, animals have no particular idea of why the pain has been inflicted on them. Because of their innocence and obliviousness of the situation that not even the soldiers themselves could explain, they are pitied and sympathized with. Later in the story, Paul wonders why exactly are they fighting in the war. Just like horses, they have no particular reason to fight, as they hold no personal grudge towards the enemy soldiers. Most of the soldiers enlisted were persuaded by nationalism or propaganda. However, the death of the horses still seemed more impactful for me. It is the human’s war after all. 

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PW: Please Keep Your Belongings Safe

She drank carefully from her bottle.

By secret glances over the dancing crowd, she saw the young man holding his skateboard. With a skateboard like that, one would naturally receive the spotlight of the stage.
Soon there was nothing left in her cup. She dodged through sweaty bodies and approached the young man with a light tap on his shoulder.

His shoulders were full of tension. He was prepared with whatever lays ahead of him. He pulled on a smile while he improvised his lines for situations like this. His friends were teasing him as they tossed well-rehearsed phrases towards each other. He was feeling proud and excited. He was ready to pull on a full night’s play.

Listening to their monotonous conversation, she was standing next to his prop of a skateboard. How very attractive it was! She felt her mouth began to water and her heart was pounding.

The young man, who was finally ready to continue the script, found himself confused .

She stole his skateboard and ran.

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IRJE: Oct 14 (Crime and Punishment)

The book Crime and Punishment, written by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is about Raskolnikov, a former student who is struggling with financial and mental problems, and plans to commit a crime by murdering an old pawnbroker Alyona Ivanova. While he isolates himself from society, he has been torturing himself mentally, but at last he decides to take action for his plan.

Almost every criminal is subject to a failure of will and reasoning power by a childish and phenomenal heedlessness, at the very instant when prudence and caution are most essential. (page 58)

Something that I find interesting about this quote is that it shows many controversial ideas. Raskolnikov is in a sick condition, and while being mentally unstable, he is well-educated and is capable of making precise judgments. This quote also hints on the superiority and proudness that he feels. Raskolnikov is confident in himself that he will not be affected by the “phenomenal heedlessness”. By thinking this he already considers himself as a criminal, but yet throughout the chapter he justifies his reasons for the murder of the hateful pawnbroker, by saying that she selfishly keeps her money while having no use to it, so that he will do society a favour by killing her and use her money for a better purpose. It is very controversial, but very interesting.

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PW : Hotel Arabella pt2

“I thought you would be highly interested to interview this man. Not a very fortunate man I’d say, but that’s the life for all artists. Sad, but talented. Talented enough, but very broke and sad.”

Adrian Wilson, well-off and famous, abused his times in the substances after the massive success of his gallery, which attracted thousands.

He settled in a shabby town where rain visits daily, however he disliked the rain very much. But rain is an especially helpful accomplice for stripping away the memories of the town. Adrian must have experienced pouring rain, for which people withdrew from him in such a quick manner, till one day where there was no one for him to remember and no one to remember him. He awoke from his dream of fame but by then he had already missed the train and was separated from the rest of the world, unwillingly drowning in liquor and the cheap beddings of unfamiliar furniture.

His room at Hotel Arabella was small and awkward, as I made an effort on not tripping over canvases and cans of opened paint. I never had a chance to interview him myself, for which he passed away a few weeks ago. But I was fortunate to see his young grandson, jailed in this rotten room, sick and talented as he could be, just like his grandfather.

It truly wasn’t surprising for him to be abandoned. For he was an absolute nuisance, to his mother and everyone else. This was Aurelius. At a very young age thrown to his grandpa like a burden too annoying to bear. True, that is the pair, Adrian and Aurelius, had a vast collection of similarities, especially for their common gifts on the arts and of their irresponsible nature. He was the culprit of creating a crazy scandal, a substance, grim and powerful, that had beaten me up and booked me a ride driving straight into the flames. I am willingly doomed and shall again pray someday, but with nothing, in particular, to regret.

 

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IRJE: Oct 1st (Alias Grace)

The book Alias Grace, written by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is a recreation of the story of a famous murderess Grace Marks, who was accused of murdering her employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper (and so happened to be mistress) Nancy Montgomery with the help of her accomplice James McDermott. Grace was the childhood sweetheart of the young boy Jamie Walsh, who lived on the Kinnear property. On Grace’s trial, Jamie Walsh had hurt her deeply by cutting all connections from her and gave effective evidence to the judge against her, which had lead to her 30 years of imprisonment. When Grace was finally pardoned, she was found by the regretful Jamie Walsh, now Mr.Walsh, who begged for her forgiving because he believed that he had caused her very sufferings. Whether or not Grace had truly participated in the murders were unknown in records, but Mr. Walsh and Grace were soon married as Grace wrote a letter to Dr.Jordan and her story have come to an end.

He listens to all of that like a child listening to a fairy tale, as if it is something wonderful and then he begs me to tell him yet more…

Now that I come to think of it, you were as eager as Mr.Walsh is to hear about my sufferings and my hardships in life; and not only that, but you would write them down as well. (p. 547-548)

I find this quote interesting because it is a revolutionary idea towards all the content before this chapter. As I read the book I have never doubted the truth of Grace’s story, narrated by herself to Dr. Jordan. But I have caught myself being entertained at her sufferings throughout the book, similar to how Mr.Walsh and Dr. Jordan did. Grace is aware of this as she had kept her audience interested at all times, and even after she was pardoned from the penitentiary she was still required to perform her role. And what is it exactly do we find so interesting  from the poor woman’s sufferings? This quote alarmed me; I am no different from the crowd that urged to watch McDermott’s public hanging; I am quite guilty too.

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PW: Hotel Arabella (pt 1)

Arabella, a maiden beautiful and spring married to the prosperous Duke Edward and was content until in December abandoned she, became a bitter widow. The shady, grim Arabella inherited the Foster hotel from her beloved, infant in arms. Arabella had managed well without her lovely grace, though her methods remain dignifiedly unknown, protecting her from the ugly whispers among the aimless. 

However shameless she had become, one cannot but bitterly admit that she is extremely cunning at arranging her inheritances. Her slim silhouette would emerge from the horizon aligning at the outskirts of town, in her dusty black coat and a worn brown case, she is as if the definition of mystery itself. Packed in those heavy brims the most exotic of collections, marvels, and slogans written in a foreign tongue, organic cigarettes wrapped in thin ivory, and even once a single boot of silver alligator skin. The crowd, never in their life had seen such wonders, nor that they could ever imagine the existence of a single item Arabella had seen. 

Her fame had made well known of her hotel, for which it was nicknamed “Hotel Arabella” with suspicious intentions. No straight men would live in such a facility in hopes of seeking temporary shelter. But men like me, men who are proud outcasts will indeed rest within the moistly rotten couches and guzzle on the remaining gentleness of sanity with teeth strengthened in unknown hatred. There is no need to justify the positives about Hotel Arabella. My heart beats for the love for Arabella, for the love of life and for every bitter, breath-taking eternity, in which I will escort you through in our journey. 

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IRJE: September 15 (Alias Grace)

The book Alias Grace was recreated from the story of a famous murderess of the nineteenth century, written by a Canadian author Margaret Atwood. The book introduces the death of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery, for which Grace Marks and James McDermott were accused of murdering. James McDermott was publicly hanged and Grace Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment. Doctor Simon Jordan, a young man in need of success in his research of the criminal mind approaches the case and discusses the details with Miss Lydia, the daughter of the Governess of the Penitentiary.

“Here is the execution”, says Miss Lydia. “Of James McDermott. It was in several of the newspapers. This one is The Examiner.”

Simon reads:

What a morbid appetite for such sights, must exist in society, when so large an assemblage, in the present state of our roads, had collected, to witness the dying agony, of an unfortunate but criminal fellow-being! Can it be supposed that public morals are improved, or the tendency to the commission of flagrant crimes repressed by such public sights as these?

“I am inclined to agree,” says Simon. (page 99)

This section of the book establishes an interesting point about public executions. People have been especially fond of attending public hangings in the nineteenth century, and even throughout history. The reason may be because that perhaps this was one of the only summonings that the attenders wouldn’t be arrested for. I find it very attractive that Simon tends to express his opinion of questioning the morality of this practice not because of the temptation to justify his morals, but because of his practiced and refined mind which is what differentiates him from the rest of the crowd. I think it is very important to have such qualities because it prevents the unconscious mind being affected by the popular practices and therefore makes one no longer themselves.

 

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