Who’s in Control in Victory Lap?

While many view Victory Lap as a triumph over control and the influence held by those who are present in one’s life, its ending portrays a different narrative. Weeks after the main events of the story take place, Alison is found to be having nightmares about what she went through, and Kyle’s role in what happened. She recounts how she had a chance to stop Kyle from killing the attacker and did nothing, only to be reassured by her parents that she was remembering incorrectly. This creates two possibilities for the ending as it’s unknown how truthful her parents are being. The possibility of her parents lying about the events to her, in an attempt to reprogram her memory, fits with some of the control and manipulation that is commonly shown by all of the characters’ parents. Earlier in the book Kyle states how Alison’s parents created a perfect world for her to live in, and have kept her sheltered. Now this denial can be seen as an attempt to shelter her emotionally by protecting her from the traumatic event. Due to the evidential manipulation in the earlier parts of the story, it should be seen as more likely that this is the true ending. This demonstrates that even while some freedom may be gained, the remnants of control never truly dissolve.

Response to Benjamin’s “Bonds of Love”

Jessica Benjamin believes that love is facilitated through power dynamics in relationships. She explains many ways binaries can be seen in society and how the gender binary is the one that sets up the rest. Due to the fact that sex is the first indicator of who someone is when they are born, it sets people up to be seen as dominant or submissive in the gender binary and then in other ones as they grow up. She explains that one’s entire sense of identity is based on these binaries. These power relationships, whether binary or not, define people’s lives and make power central in everyone’s lives, ultimately contributing to people feeling like they lack fulfillment in their lives. She contradicts Freud’s ideas about one’s sense of identity revolving around their father’s role, also symbolizing society, law, and authority, in separating them from their mother. She argues that identity is found by making efforts to relate to others, rather than by separation but that society makes that difficult because of the way people are socialized. She explains that if people can accomplish this, mutual recognition is possible.

Benjamin’s theory can be seen across most aspects of life, from personal relationships to a global scale. In my life, it operates as all of my relationships feed into some sort of binary whether it’s the MALE/female one or something more specific like MOTHER/daughter. These all impact my ability to have autonomy and how I interact with others. According to Benjamin, if there wasn’t a difference of power in these relationships, I would feel like my life is more fulfilling. I agree mostly with this theory, lots of these binaries, especially more obvious ones such as gender and race can lead to a lot of oppression which is interwoven into all aspects of one’s life and can have many negative effects on someone’s life and their perception of it. Another example of this is binaries based on class, this can alter our perceptions of others and how we perceive our ability to impact their lives. Even if it is done out of sympathy, it can easily perpetuate the idea of dominance as we feel like their lives can be better because of our actions or charity.

Response to Benjamin’s Argument

Jessica Benjamin’s argument is that individuality comes from a combination of separation and connection with other people. Essentially, a person’s subjectivity comes from them being recognized by a subject by someone who is recognized as a subject by the person. This is in contrast to Freud’s beliefs about individuality. Freud believed that a (male) person’s individuality first begins to develop when he realizes that he is distinct from his mother. Freud believed that a person’s individuality is developed through their recognition of their separateness from others. Another part of Jessica Benjamin’s argument is that when this delicate balance of mutual recognition breaks down, it leads to a power struggle between those involved. When one person stops recognizing the other person as a subject and diminishes their individuality, the other person affirms their own individuality, which forces the other person to affirm their individuality in return, leading to a power struggle.

Benjamin’s theory helps me understand why people develop a sense of individuality. Her theory may also explain why relationships fall apart and a power struggle forms. As the two people stop recognizing each other as individuals, they try to impose their individuality on them, causing the other to reciprocate by doing the same. Benjamin’s theory also made me think about the human need for socialization. I think that it may explain one of the reasons humans need socialization. Without others to recognize a person’s subjectivity, their sense of individuality falls apart. People who are lonely are more likely to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, and according to Benjamin’s theory, people need their subjectivity to be recognized by another to maintain a healthy sense of individuality. So I thought that people might anthropomorphize objects when lonely/isolated as a subconscious attempt to get that recognition.

Response to “Good Readers and Good Writers”

Nabakov’s piece on the levels of good readers to good writers has strong views and differences when compared. What makes a good writer, in my opinion, is a writer who looks at their own piece as a readers’ point of view. Writing, for many, is seen as a strenuous skill to grasp and excel at but could be very rewarding. As writers publish their work to the public, the readers will be able to see a “new world” that was developed by the author. Nabakov explains how writers and readers need to both work with each other to have the fullest potential in a written piece. Readers provide the writer by giving recognition to the piece. Writers are able to give their readers emotions such as a “tingle” down the spine and are able to influence their feelings. In short, Nabakov’s passage shows the link between good writers and how they influence good readers and how it is related to society.

Strength of Human Nature in Escape From Spiderhead

“I’d say no,” Verlaine said over the P.A. “That’s all just pretty much basic human feeling right there.”

In George Saunders’ short story, Escape From Spiderhead, we follow the trials and experimentation of basic human nature. Spiderhead is all about empathy; do we have innate feelings of basic recognition for other humans or all we just a composition of chemicals and hormones?

Saunders explores this concept through our narrator Jeff, a convicted killer who is a test subject for new drug trials. Throughout the story, Jeff is pumped full of various drugs which forcibly make him fall in love with other subjects or eloquently speak whatever is on his mind. We see Jeff forced to have these feelings and then have them taken away to see if they remain. In a tortuous moment of watching another test subject, Heather, succumb to suicidal depression-inducing drugs, we see that Jeff has no lingering feelings of love for her but still wholeheartedly believes that she deserves life and love. Despite having no chemical feelings for Heather or knowing anything about her life, Jeff believes that Heather and “every human is worthy of love,” (69).

Jeff’s innate empathy is further put to the test when he finds out he will be forced to watch another girl be drugged the same way as Heather. Jeff, once again, has no feelings of love for this girl and even finds out she too is a convicted killer, but he refuses to participate in the experiment. Jeff doesn’t stop with his refusal though, going as far as to willingly overdose on drugs that quickly kill him. Jeff sacrificed his life to spare another person’s pain, despite seemingly having no feelings for her.

Saunders makes us question what humanity is truly made of with this story. Is it chemicals that can be manipulated or is there an innate empathy that belongs to all of us? In a bittersweet ending of Jeff’s death, we do find that certain human traits are inherent and cannot be removed with any amount of drugs.

Responding to Benjamins’ “Bonds Of Love”

Benjamin states that domination and submission are key factors in relationships. Humans have accepted the fact that the man displays the domination while the woman remains submissive. She then digs deeper on how domination actually works within a relationship. Domination is in fact a complex psychological which ties both parties in a relationship in bonds of complicity. Benjamin showcases different scenarios where the man can be dominant and where the woman can be dominant. She states that culture plays a big role in why we accept this domination, saying, culture preserves the structure of domination even though it appears to embrace equality. She says feminism’s opinion on domination is the female is vulnerable because of the general male aggression

Nabokov and What Makes a Good Reader

In his essay “Good Readers and Good Writers,” Nabokov mentions in a definative way that the worst thing a person can do while reading is to identify with a character in a book. He goes on to say that this is a lowly form of imagination that no reader should use. While I agree with Nabokov to a certain extent, I don’t find anything wrong with identifying with a character in a book. When reading, there is no way you won’t find a certain character that you relate to in some way. I think it’s pretty common for people to look for little things in a character that they relate to in order to understand that person or that story better. Personally, I find no issue with this and am guilty of doing this while reading. However, I don’t think everything an author writes is supposed to be relatable. Nabokov wrote the infamous story “Lolita,” which is a story that is narrated by a pedophile and is attraction to a 12-year-old girl named Dolores. This novel is very disturbing and is still a very controversial topic to this day. While reading this, I don’t think Nabokov meant anyone to try and relate to this story in any way. I think he wrote it to shine a light on an often disregarded topic because many people find it uncomfortable to talk about. However, on social media and in music, the type of relationship showed in Lolita is often romanitized and seemingly praised. I think this is very harmful because the book explicitly discusses how it is abuse and how a man abused his power over a little girl. This should not be praised or something that is strived for. All in all, I think it’s great to relate to a character in a novel or story, however, we should not mix relatiblity with praising awful actions. This is harmful in so many ways and can end up hurting people who are younger and can be easily influenced.

To be Lessened is not to be Lesser

Why should he not do or say weird things or look strange or disgusting…Why should those he loved not lift and bend and feed and wipe him, when he would gladly do the same for them? He’d been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping…and yet, at the same time saw that there could still be many…drops of goodness…ahead…and those drops…were not—had never been–his to withhold

Tenth of December, 249

George Saunders’s short story “Tenth of December” tells a tale of an elderly man suffering from a terminal illness and his fight for survival alongside a young, peculiar boy. Don Eber–the elderly man–begins the story on a mission to end his life prematurely. His illness has rendered him partially disabled and causes him not to be himself at times. Furthermore, Don’s father had the same disease and left Don with a considerable amount of childhood trauma. Finding it extremely difficult to cope with his condition–especially since he sees how it plays out through his father, he sought to wander out alone in the cold and escape the pain of feeling like a lesser human being.

However, Don finds himself saving a young boy’s life despite significantly unfavorable odds. This interaction restores Don’s will to live, and he ends up getting saved by the boy’s mother. As he reflects on the meaning of his life and what is important to him, he has a pivotal realization. Just because he has lost the ability to properly care for himself due to his illness does not make him any worse or less of a person. He thinks of his wife and kids caring for him, and how they know he would do the same for any one of them. He realizes that it was more the fear of being inept that was weighing down him rather than actually being less capable. If both Don and his family can accept the reality of the situation while also realizing Don’s human dignity and value remains untainted by the disease, Don should be able to live his last days with a degree of comfort and contentment. The story fortunately ends with no one being seriously harmed and Don and his family on a emotionally healthy trajectory.

Humanity in Spiderhead

George Saunder’s “Escape from Spiderhead” has many compelling components from its intensely vivid descriptions to its unsettling dystopian setting. While there are many interesting details and descriptions throughout, the story ultimately seems to circle back to a question surrounding the humanity, or the lack thereof in human beings. Surrounding the raw drama and violence of the story are the drugs that are used to influence the convicts’ actions. Clearly, the use of the drugs is the primary fictitious element of the story, meant to signify a jump in technology that has not yet been reached. At least to myself, but I suspect most readers, the drugs are seen as an unknown futuristic substance that have influence and reach well beyond any current technology; the subjects behave and react in bizarre ways while we imagine how we might possibly react to such an unreal substance. However, while reflecting on the story, I began to question how much of a stretch component the drugs really are.

After all, as human beings, we are not robots and we don’t make decisions based off of an objective programming; we are organic beings with complex minds and our minds are heavily influenced by already naturally occurring chemicals, hormones, etc. Especially when we are more emotional, we may feel that we aren’t even thinking but rather acting on impulse, impulse associated with instinct rather than logical thinking. Basically, our minds are already under the constant influence of natural drugs that will largely steer our mentality. The most profound moments in one’s life can probably be framed within an achievement, a relationship, a tragedy, a struggle. Those sorts of moments might often have that sort of dreamy, unreal feeling because our body and mind have already determined how we will act; we are programmed to react a certain way to love, friendship, adversary, sadness. Even our morals and ethics that we lay our actions on our often determined by the experiences we have as babies and children, long before we begin to think critically about the world. The dystopian reality where humanity’s free will and intellect can be easily hijacked with chemicals and technology may be less sci-fi and more like a minor extension of reality because we may have never really possessed that perceived free will in the first place. If we are already highly emotionally creatures, constantly being influenced by signals out of our control, then is it that much of a stretch to see the effectiveness of these sorts of drugs? Ultimately, much humanity do we really possess? The answer to a question like this is subjective and difficult to determine, but Saunders does end the story hinting that humanity does exist. Despite his alienization, dehumanization, and total influence under the drugs, the narrator seems to be able to act according to his own will, ultimately coming to terms with himself as he dies, swearing to never kill again. His action represents a change in his personal mentality, a strong demonstration of morality, and comes on his own terms, signifying a decision that is about as independent and humanizing as an action can be.

The ideas of Benjamin and her ways of Power

Jessica Benjamin argues that the key to freedom is through intersubjectivity and those who seek powerful figures early on. She believes that the people who submit power as well as exercise the usage of power are more dominant. The struggle for power in most cases is between the father and the son and it resonates from that into real life situations. There are steps to show the structure of how power forms and the domination of power as well. Jessica firmly believes that opposite sexs have different sorts of power but that one always has less than the other in certain situations. In order to understand the split between femininity and masculinity there must be critics of the masculine side but also the feminine side. But then to also to be focused on the power and dualistic structure between the two major factors. The Binary usage between many ideas that she has is very important to look at comparing two different types of people and seeing what they can and what they cant do to show which one of them has more power over the other. Because there will always be leaders and there will always be followers.

Understanding Benjamins Theory Of Subjectivity and Power

Individuality comes with certain conditions that have to be met in order for people to form relationships.  The male species has the ancestral nature to dominate and think of anyone else as sexual objects or helpers to him.  And in order for relationships and bonds of love to form people need to recognize who other people in society are.  If someone does not give attention or show any feelings towards a person then that person ceases to exist.  This power imbalance is what made the patriarchy into what it is today with males not recognizing females as equals and just sexual objects.  This intense battle of trying to dominate one another makes the process of forming relationships harder than it needs to be.  Think about the quiet kid that sits in the back with his hoodie on and headphones in, and that nobody has talked to or knows anything about him, after high school that person is forgotten because of the lack of dominance he had over people.  They viewed him as nothing special and not a threat so they gave him no thought.  The power hierarchy which all people have in their minds is what keeps the bonds of love from being formed. Her theory makes me see the social exchanges between people as machines rather than human beings.

Kyle’s Turning Point in Finding Himself

A passage from the Tenth of December that stood out to me was in Victory Lap on page 23 paragraph 2. This paragraph starts out with Kyle battling his own thoughts and you can see the process he is going through of what to do. This has to do with his parents, they are very strict and have a lot of rules for Kyle. However, the last line of this paragraph really stood out to me because you can see the exact moment when Kyle has a turning point. His last thought states “Quiet. I’m the boss of me”. Throughout Kyle’s life he had no control, he followed the rules and that is what he knew. But you can see how he has that moment where he was not letting people control what he was doing anymore. He was taking control of his life. I also thought it was so chilling how we saw that exact change in his mind.

Human trafficking and Semplica Girls

One aspect of human trafficking that isn’t known enough is that often times it goes unnoticed. In the case of the novel The Semplica Girl Diaries, the human ornaments called Semplica Girls are common, with nearly every single house in the narrator’s neighborhood having them. Semplica Girls are from impoverished foreign countries like the Philippines or Moldova, who sign a contract in order to become a human decorations. What can be said about human trafficking, whether that be for forced labor or organ harvesting, is that the victims are often from impoverished backgrounds, as those people are easier to exploit. Another aspect that ties the Semplica Girls into human trafficking is that towards the end of the novel, the detective mentions that activists cause the city a problem because they frequently interfere with the Semplica Girls by freeing them. If the Semplica Girls really enjoyed their job or were Seplica Girls voluntarily, why would they object to being free? Wouldn’t they fight back, or take another action to ensure that they would keep their job? It’s clear that since they willingly leave once freed, they are trapped in a job that they don’t want to be in. 

Furthermore, the narrator is careful to explain to Eva that the Semplica Girls aren’t actually being exploited, they choose their jobs and would have a worse situation otherwise. By showing the tragic nature of the backgrounds of the Semplica Girls, the narrator only further illustrates that the Semplica Girls are coerced into their job, that the people who run the company seek out vulnerable females for a cruel industry. With the combined exploitation of vulnerable females and the caging nature of the job, it is evident that Semplica Girls serve as a commentary on the pervasiveness of human trafficking

Response to Jessica Benjamin’s “Bonds of Love”

Jessica Benjamin’s Psychoanalytic piece argues that society creates hierarchies and that the problems that come with those hierarchies exist because of a lack of mutual recognition. She believes these binaries continue when the dominant individual in the binary uses their power and the submissive individual accepts the dominance and doesn’t stand up. Benjamin values equality and asserts that one’s identity shouldn’t rely on the absence of being something, for example, a man is a man because he is not a woman.

Benjamin’s perspective gave me a new awareness of the binaries in my life. An example of one of them would be the binary of a man and a woman. I took away from Benjamin’s writing that it is essential to not submit to power dynamics and view others as the same, full human being as yourself. Her writing is significant because it can help change people’s views on their everyday behavior no matter what side of a binary someone is on. Silencing the idea of power and who holds it can lead to a much more equal and balanced life for everyone.

What does Nabokov want?

If you have read what makes a good reader and a good writer then you should understand what Nabokov wants. He, quite explicitly, says he wants “an artistic harmonious balance between the reader’s mind and the author’s mind.” However, I disagree. Nabokov, in my interpretation of his writing, doesn’t know what he wants from readers. I know what he wants from writers, he wants enchanters, he wants wizards, and he wants deceivers. This is clearly stated when he says “A major writer combines these three—storyteller, teacher, enchanter—but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.” But, when it comes to readers, he is unclear. He says that a reader must have an imagination, not a first-rate one, but an expansive imagination capable of comprehending the story, interpreting the story, then reinventing the author’s story. But he also says that “the worst thing a reader can do, he identifies himself with a character in the book. This lowly variety is not the kind of imagination I would like readers to use.” The source of imagination is inspiration, and we take inspiration from everything we see, everything we do, and everything we know. The way I see it, Nabokov is saying that to be a truly greater reader, someone who is able to achieve a true artistic harmonious balance between author and reader, they must be able to imagine the world in an entirely different way. Real writers reinvent the world, they are not bound by a specific subject or event. They simply take a normal story or idea and reinvent it in a way that the reader has to utilize their imagination to understand it. But Nabokov says that if you relate to a character, then your imagination is lowly and undesirable. This perturbs me because it’s as if Nabokov is discrediting an entire approach to reading, interpreting, and envisioning. It’s as if he is gatekeeping his imagination to a specific interpretation. And this, I believe, muddies his claim as there are multiple ways of reading and writing and they shouldn’t be bound by an idyllic measure. I think that all reading and writing intrinsically have their own value and none are inherently better or worse. While Nabokov does say that he doesn’t want the reader to think this way and that he doesn’t explicitly say that relating to a character discredits the reader’s imagination, I believe that his claim of proper reading being an artistic harmonious balance is unable to be achieved or is at least fundamentally flawed when a writer sets a precedent upon the reader. The writer had a set of expectations for how a reader should or should not think upon beginning to read a piece of literature is something Nabokov himself warns against, “Nothing is more boring or more unfair to the author than starting to read, say, Madame Bovary, with the preconceived notion that it is a denunciation of the bourgeoisie. We should always remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection with
the worlds we already know.” While I do personally think Nabokov’s claim is inherently flawed and is contradicting in nature, I still think there is still value in it, just as there is still value in every form of imagination and interpretation.

Responding to Benjamin

Benjamin argues that for a person to reach an ideal subjectivity, they must be viewed as a subject by someone else. Jessica Benjamin also states that the model of identity originates from when a child begins to be able to separate feelings and thoughts from his mothers. This happens when a child can truly understand himself. Benjamin claims individuality comes down to connectivity and separation. As children grow up and they have less connectivity they will also have less subjectivity altering things in their lives. Also her goal is to have the premise of identity to not depend on the rejections of others. She believes this all stems from a need for recognition. Benjamin says that for the power in a relationship to be stable both partners must view each other as a subject. She also states that true independence comes from “asserting the self and recognizing the other¨.

Do Good Writers Make Good Readers?

In Vladimir Nabokov’s Good Readers and Good Writers, Nabokov defines what makes a good reader versus a good writer. When I finished reading his article, many thoughts were flying through my mind. One question in particular that came to my mind when I was reading was how much the qualities of good readers and good writers overlap, and if a good writer would make a good reader? As I analyzed Nabokov’s argument, I found that some of the traits of a good writer easily overlapped with those of good readers. For example, good writers must possess the four traits critical to good readers: imagination as storytellers, dictionaries & memories as teachers, and artistic sense as enchanters.

However, other traits that Nabokov noted as critical to being a good reader made me uncertain of if a good writer could earn the classification as a good reader. In order to be a good reader, Nabokov claims that we must study the worlds within books as brand new, paying very close attention to the details. We must visualize the author’s setting and characters by learning to curb our own imaginations. Good writers, though, do not accept the world in its entirety, and instead see it as the “potentiality for fiction”. So, if writers approach worlds with the intent to craft it anew, how can they immerse themselves in the details of the worlds of other writers without creating their own? Are good writers even able to curb their imaginations in order to do partake in good reading? While I am uncertain of the elasticity of Nabokov’s traits of good readers and good writers, I would like to ask him what his thoughts on this matter are. I wonder if it is possible to be too imaginative; if there is a point where a writer is so good that they could not possibly be a good reader.

The Objective Reader and Nabokov

I can tell you right now that the best temperament for a reader to have, or to develop, is a combination of the artistic and the scientific one. The enthusiastic artist alone is apt to be too subjective in his attitude towards a book, and so a scientific coolness of judgement will temper the intuitive heat. If, however, a would-be reader is utterly devoid of passion and patience - of an artist's passion and a scientist's patience - he will hardly enjoy great literature. (41)

Nabokov has proven to be highly controversial for his analysis of what makes a good reader and a good writer (actually for more than that, but that’s a different story). I disagreed with a fair amount of what he said at first, but as I read and reread what he wrote, I realized I agreed with him more than I thought I would.

Nabokov feels that a reader must be paradoxically detached from a story and still attached to it enough to analyze what’s going on, which made no sense to me when I first read it, but I realized that all he meant was that the reader shouldn’t attempt to relate themselves to the story at all. Which I still felt made the enjoyable act of reading too cold and detached from the original story. But I realized that Nabokov’s idea of literature was not the same as mine, he views literature as a truly “pure” art form, one that must create a world and a story free of outside influences, and one that must be consumed in the same vacuum. It might sound cold and almost heartless, which is true to an extent, but view it more as (as a reader) jumping into a new world with no recollection of the world outside, rather than viewing a world from outside a glass box.

One could almost say that the reader must see the work on the same “level of power” as they are on, it is not their story, it is not their world, but it is a world that the author made that the reader is stepping into. The reader cannot impose their personal experiences on their interpretation of the world the author has created, or try to mold the story to fit their own without placing themselves “over” the unique, well-written story Nabokov hopes every author would create. To experience a story in this way requires a mutual agreement of the author and reader to abide by the guidelines Nabokov has laid out, consciously or not, to create a brand-new world unlike any either party had ever seen, to fashion a spectacular, never-before-experienced story, featuring characters nobody’s ever met. To relate this brand-new world to anything in the author or reader’s life (either in its creation or consumption), would completely spoil this pristine vacuum-packed world. It would be like taking a foreign delicacy you had never tasted anything like before and covering it in ketchup, at least according to Nabokov.

Critique of Nabokov’s Theory

Although Nabokov presents a fascinating theory about how to be a good reader, I believe his theory is too arbitrary. I believe his theory forgets the fact that people read for many different purposes.

Nabokov claims that in order to truly appreciate the characters in a story, a reader should not relate to them. I, however, believe that motive for reading a story may be to find comfort in relating to a character. From the authors perspective, Nabokov fails to recognize that their purpose in writing may be to connect with a specific audience.

Furthermore, while re-reading is important to fully understanding a book, one may re-read simply to enjoy themselves. To enjoy the world of the book another time, not to probe at the authors meaning.

Whether people want to read to understand the authors full purpose, relate and empathize to characters, or to be taken back into a comforting world, they should still be considered good readers.