The Art of Orientalism

When I was about 7 or 8, my dad took me to visit The Art Institute of Chicago for the first time. I had been to museums before, but I’d never seen anything quite like those galleries, 20-foot ceilings with walls coated in thick layers of gold filigreed frames and various conglomerations of paints. The rooms I always felt most connected to were the ones holding Van Goghs and Monets, feeling that connection they held to my heritage.

I wish I could say that, as an 8-year-old, I was able to spot the imperialism and Eurocentricity that binds together the walls of so many art museums, but that wouldn’t be true. Like many European Americans, the interest I had in ancient Chinese, Indian, and Japanese art came from a sense of exploration, exposing my mind to the foreignness of the sculptures and pottery. For many years, I suppose I assumed that the exploratory aspect of myself was sufficient reason for any inclination I bore towards East and Southeast Asian art, that the interest, in and of itself, was something to be proud of. However, the difference between the fixation I had for European Impressionist paintings and my curiosity surrounding the Asian galleries was an appreciation and understanding. Even now, I can’t honestly say that I understand every painting I see, but behind that, there is a search for understanding, a drive to comprehend the complexities of each brushstroke.

In the topic of Orientalism, the thing that separated cultural appropriation from appreciation is just the same; some people seek to enjoy the commodities of other cultures, and some people seek to respect them. Respect, not just acknowledgment, whether it be in tangible art, literature, or ceremonies, is what ensures that people do not simply see and take. Respect establishes civility, attentiveness, and accountability for all of the culture Eurocentricity has treated like a trend.

Personality Typing in King Lear

One of my favorite things to do when I encounter a new story is to try my hand at assigning them a Myers-Briggs personality type. When it comes to King Lear, some of the characters were abnormally easy to gauge, as they served as archetypes for a few different types. Lear, for example, is a typical ESTJ. Generally seen as power-hungry and strong-minded, ESTJs have a cognitive function stack of Te-Si-Ne-Fi. This means that their dominant function is extroverted thinking (Te), which harshly analyzes the world around them to process and organize information. In King Lear, we see this in his tendency to look at information from a purely rational perspective and his blatant disregard for the feelings of those around him. ESTJ’s auxiliary function is introverted sensing (Si), which is a processing function and determines an individual’s method of processing information internally and in real-time. This manifests in King Lear’s frequent comparisons of current events, not from a philosophical standpoint, but from a more rational and pragmatic one. The combination of his dominant and auxiliary functions serves to take in information directly from the environment, analyze it based on tangible and factual data, and organize it into a logical framework that compares current and past data in order to categorize things appropriately. The tertiary function of an ESTJ is extriverted intuition (Ne), which seeks to observe and understand the possibilities of the outside world. Because this is not one of his first two functions it is used far less frequently and is developed later on in life than the Te and Si. Finally, the inferior function is introverted feeling (Fi). This function, used the least, guides the ESTJ through the processing of their own emotions.

However, while under stress, ESTJs begin to act very differently. The tendency of every MBTI type, while undergoing some kind of stressful event or period, is to fall back on their tertiary and inferior functions because of an overhwleming desire to excape. In the case of ESTJs, they begin to heavily lean on Ne and Fi, causing them to overanalyze the philosophical implications of their poor state-of-mind and hyperfixate on their feelings of confusion and unrest. Ne and Fi are the two dominant functions of an INFP, Cordelia’s type (Fi, Ne, Si, Te). I believe this is why Lear and Cordelia seem to find much more common ground by the end of the play, as their outlook and processing of information is somewhat similar.

The King’s healthy functioning is seen almost exclusively at the beginning of the play, but as he begins to deteriorate, the pragmatic and decisive nature of his ESTJ stack deteriorates with him, causing himself to get lost in an internal world of deep sorrow and complex questioning of life.

It Ain’t No Use (debating whether or not this is a poem)

The seventh song on Bob Dylan’s 1963 album “The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan” is an ode to lovers gone by. Titled Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, the song tells the story of the ending of a long relationship between the narrator and an unnamed woman and their searches for a life outside of each other’s company. The narrator expresses his wishes for them to continue on with their lives, claiming that dwelling on their past can do them no good, and any attempt to fix the kinks in their relationship is simply a waste of energy.

Dylan conveys the couple’s past quarrels through the narrator’s reminiscing. The narrator seems to feel some kind of apathy toward his former lover, repeating the same phrase throughout the song.

It ain’t no use

Despite the repetition, the narrator changes the meat of each line to gradually convey the reasons behind the couple’s downfall. One instance of this is in the song’s second verse.

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe

That light I never knowed

An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe

I’m on the dark side of the road

Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say

To try and make me change my mind and stay

We never did too much talkin’ anyway

So don’t think twice, it’s all right

Dylan uses the woman’s light as a metaphor for their lack of communication as the narrator explains that trying to communicate now would make no difference. She never shared her thoughts with him or allowed him to understand her, leaving him not knowing her light. He remains on a dark path without her light and expresses a wish that she would ask him to stay, but remembers how poorly they communicated and decides they would be better off apart.

Dylan fills the narrator’s final words to his former lover with a sense of bitterness; the diction calmly calls her out for wronging him but also shows forgiveness that reflects the inner growth the narrator has undergone because of their relationship. Knowing that neither one of them is solely to blame, he consistently takes time to reassure her that their parting of ways should not cause any feelings of guilt or unhappiness. Not being right for someone does not make you wrong.

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe

Where I’m bound, I can’t tell

But goodbye’s too good a word, gal

So I’ll just say fare thee well

I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind

You could have done better but I don’t mind

You just kinda wasted my precious time

But don’t think twice, it’s all right

In a song of only 3 minutes and 41 seconds, Dylan manages to effortlessly build the story of two complicated individuals finding themselves at the end of their time together. The listener can absorb the simplistic beauty of their story, one that may have been rather mundane if it had been written by anyone else, and begin to see themselves in the character’s light. Forgiving themselves, absolving themselves of guilt, the two of them part ways cordially, returning their status to strangers. They move on and resume their lives without the weight of their past keeping them from further growth.

In 2016, Bob Dylan received a Nobel Prize in Literature for his revolutionary contributions to storytelling in American music.

The Duality of Woman

I suppose what fascinated me most about Exit West is its representation of the coexistence of femininity and sexuality. Especially in the parallel between Saeed’s mother and Nadia, we see this passionate drive for intimate physical connection. That drive is much more than we ever see in the parallel between Saeed and his father.

Because a large majority of literature or film depicts the male in a romantic relationship (granted that the relationship exists between a man and a woman) as the dominant sexual force, the one initiating contact, there is a very limited representation of female sexuality.

The lack of sexual expression granted to female characters prevents young adults and women from understanding who they are, what they need, and the validity of their experience as fully sentient beings. This poses a problem for a number of reasons, most obviously that these women are terminally unable to maintain an understanding of the existence of their sexuality. That’s why this book is so marvelous. There is an air of humanity and power held by the female characters in this story, the power of self-acceptance, and divine femininity, which is not seen in underdeveloped female characters. And this was accomplished without oversexualizing any of them; they became humans and lost no dignity in the process.

Meursault’s Moments of Sanity

A few chapters into the book, a thought, or rather a question, occurred to me. What if Meursault is a relatively normal character who is just written more truthfully than others? To put it more clearly, maybe Meursault is the only sane character in the story. As this isn’t the kind of topic with a definitive answer, I find it difficult to argue my point. Nevertheless, I will try.

Meursault seems, at least to me, to have a strong grip on or acceptance of reality. He tends not to complain about the cards he is dealt, as he realizes quite early on that he cannot do anything about them. For example, Meursault accepts his prison punishment relatively fast. One of his prison guards even points this out to him, saying, “[Y]ou see, you understand these things. The rest of them don’t” (78). We see this again in Meursault’s response to his problem of “killing time” (78). He mentions that, “apart from these annoyances,” by which he means his punishments, “I wasn’t too unhappy” (78). He cured his boredom by traveling back to his apartment by way of his memories, remembering, “every piece of furniture; and of every object, all the details; and of the details themselves–a flake, a crack, or a chipped edge” (79). This recollection process keeps him quite occupied and brings him to realize that, “a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison” (79).

To me, what others see as Meursault’s disconnection from reality, is just his acknowledgment that life must be taken as it comes, and that one must make the most of their given situation.

Does Real Love Involve Hatred?

Displays of love in The Stranger are not the kind I typically see in literature, and it makes me wonder what actually constitutes as love. It could possibly be argued that Meursault loved his mother or loves Marie, but it seems to me that he seems to have very little feeling for them, regardless of positive or negative. I

t’s generally assumed that one has love for their mother and that, upon her death, one would be distraught. Meursault does not show any sign of missing his mother, other than a passing mention of his apartment feeling too big since she’d gone (21). Similarly, Meursault shows very little sign of affection in his internal dialogue about Marie. He does mention wanting her (34) and that he “had a thing for her” at one point (19). His response to her asking to marry him (41) is more of an indifference than an agreement or confirmation.

The only relationship in which I see some semblance of love is between Salamano and his dog. They, undeniably, have a mutual disdain for each other, but that disdain means they carry strong feelings. And in contrast to their violent outbursts of supposed hatred (27), they also have moments of tenderness that, though they may not correlate directly with stereotypical tenderness, make it quite plain that they care for each other. Just the fact that Salamano, an elderly man, elects to take his dog for a long walk twice a day (27) shows some care. Additionally, Meursault describes Salamano and his dog as “inseparable for eight years” (26). The instance I feel shows Salamano’s love for his dog most clearly is his response to his dog going missing. He says, “but they’ll take him away from me, don’t you see” (39). Once this conversation had finished, Meursault and Salamano both returned to their rooms, and marked that, “from the peculiar little noise coming through the partition, I realized he was crying” (39).

As aforementioned, there is certainly a strong notion of frustration between Salamano and his dog, but in no way, shape, or form does Meursault display frustration or adoration for the characters in the story we might expect him to love. It makes me wonder if hatred is necessary for love.