Casual Conversation

In the United States, there has been a pattern in popular culture of misrepresenting Eastern cultures. The classic examples are the cannibals in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the representations of people in Mulan and Aladdin. While outside the scope of Eastern cultures, there is also the film trope of the dry, barren, gang-ridden Mexican desert. The proper term for this is Orientalism, and I think it affects people to such a degree because they are exposed to Americanizations of those cultures at a young age, which they then take to adulthood. They are then rarely, if ever, exposed to the actual cultures. The solution to this? Casual conversation.

The world lost it for the past two years, but I believe the best way to interact with someone else is face to face. When two people are standing in front of each other, there is no computer-generated filter, no screen, and no director to tell them what to say. There are no assumptions, because there is another person to explain things. There is no shield of anonymity to hide behind, because that other person is 5 feet away from you and not halfway across the globe connected to you via social media. All that is left is two people, their looks, gestures, actions, thoughts, feelings, and voices. When these two people are in front of each other, orientalist ideals fall away completely, because they are founded on obviously false assumptions about the other person standing in front of you.

Casual conversation is something every American should try, at least a few times per year. Everybody should find someone different from them, as different as possible, and just talk to them. It doesn’t have to be about anything specific, but everybody should walk away having learned something.

Why, Kent, Why?

I don’t understand the Earl of Kent. In the first scene of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kent is banished from the British kingdom for disagreeing with King Lear’s methods to split up his land among his daughters. He leaves with the line, “He’ll shape his old course in a country new” (I.i), referring to Lear imposing his old ways on a country he is giving away to his daughters.

Kent then returns disguised as Caius, with the sole purpose of serving the King, explaining “If thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemn’d, / So may it come, thy master, whom thou lovest, / Shall find thee full of labours” (I.iv). However, he then flips this on its head by challenging Goneril’s servant, Oswald, to a swordfight, when Oswald clearly is not interested in fighting (II.ii). This leads to Cornwall putting Kent in the stocks and the escalating of Lear’s rage. As a whole, Kent seems only to work to the King’s detriment, and in the few opportunities when he could have set the story straight and helped out, he does nothing. One of these such opportunities is when Lear arrives at Gloucester’s castle after the swordfight, Kent does nothing to help calm down Lear’s rage (II.iv).

Kent’s actions also remain completely unjustified. The tragedy still plays out as expected, Lear still goes mad, and while Kent does help reunite the King and Cordelia, it still does not explain what he did earlier in the play.

Letting Go and Letting Be

While not a part of the Beatles’ most influential albums, “Let It Be” is one of their most powerful songs. Released in 1970 as part of the album Let It Be, it is a true example of poetry. It exemplifies that despite the randomness and horrors of life, the world will keep going. Instead of dwelling on everything, people should keep going and the life will work itself out.

For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see

There will be an answer, let it be

Paul McCartney, the writer of the lyrics for this particular track, uses multiple definitions of “parted” to enhance the meaning. In both instances it means split, but it can mean both split internally and split between groups of people. This double meaning enhances the significance of the line, and conveys both meanings at once. It also accentuates the imagery of the song, because it shows the listener groups of people fighting against each other and with themselves. These complexities qualify it as poetry, according to Laurence Perrine. It brings the reader into the experience.

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me

McCartney, in using light as a symbol, complicates the meaning and turns this track into poetry. Light, especially light coming from the sky, is typically used in literature to represent wisdom or the divine. Clouds and darkness, on the other hand, are ominous and foreboding. In “Let It Be”, these symbols convey relaxing and letting go as a way out of darkness. This use of figurative language turns a regular song into poetry, as it takes a simple idea and deepens it. In other words, according to Perrine, poetry “increas[es] the range of our experience and [is] a glass for clarifying it” (What Is Poetry, 3), and this line satisfies.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, “Let it be”

This line from “Let It Be” shows the human experience, thus poeticizing it. It shows that during struggles, people lean on others and their wisdom to help walk them through. It also draws on our memories of others: when McCartney writes “comes to me”, he implies that his mother appears in the form of a memory. This section of the song follows the broadening our experiences poetic requirement outlined by Perrine, in that it illustrates something that everybody has experienced — recalling old wisdom.

“Let It Be” is a prime example of poetry in the music world, and it brings together a lesson for everyone on how to go through life, human experiences, and the acknowledgement that despite the world being messed up, Earth will keep turning and we can move on.

Immigration Nation

The United States is a country with a checkered past with regards to immigration. From Columbus’s treatment of Native Americans to the border wall, this country has both been attacked by migrants and then attacked migrants. The world currently lives in a refugee crisis, where people seeking a peaceful place to live away from the persecution of their own countries have fled to parts of the world that don’t want them. In Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, this is taken to a new extreme when magical doors appear around the globe that transport migrants away from their home countries. This allows the migration process to speed up rapidly, and simultaneously the discrimination against them to rise.

Why does this discrimination exist? Why have immigrants turned themselves into natives, and now discriminate against others who are trying to do what they once did? It boils down to a few things: nativism and “the other”. In Exit West, this appears when some of the Londoners protest the influx of migrants in Chapter 7. This is an example of nativism, and its existence in the United States is oddly paradoxical. Since it is a nation made of mostly immigrants, how can nativism exist? Wouldn’t the nativism necessarily persecute those who are promoting it the most?

The idea of “the other” is also prevalent in both Exit West and the current refugee crisis. In the novel, the London government plans to set up a “halo city” for the migrants. By separating the migrants from “regular” Londoners, they inherently “otherize” them. “The other” also embodies why the nativist mob exists in the first place: they are fearful of the changing landscape of their city and what the migrants might bring with them (culture, violence…), resulting in acts of violence.

Nativism and “the other” are powerful forces acting on everybody. People are fearful of that which is different, so violence occurs. The solution is to find, through conversation, that the two sides are, in reality, not all that different.

What Does Love Mean to Meursault?

The meaning of love is something that humans struggle with, and trying to find it usually results in one person in the back yelling out “42!” to end the discussion. But, in Camus’ The Stranger, Meursault takes a different approach.

“…she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so.”

The Stranger, Page 35

He appears to reject the concept of the discussion altogether, describing it as meaningless. In other words, he does not debate the meaning of love, instead he argues that there really is no meaning. Meursault describes the world with a flat, blank, tone, and this is the same approach he takes to love.

“…Marie came by to see me and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said it didn’t make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her. ‘So why marry me, then?”…Then she pointed out that marriage was a serious thing. I said ‘No’.”

The Stranger, Page 42

Expanding on what he said earlier, Meursault continues to avoid discussing love at any length, simply staying noncommittal. He pins the decisions on Marie instead of contributing his own input.

The real question is “Why?”. Why does Meursault believe the way he does? I believe that something happened to Meursault earlier in his life to make him the way that he is: noncommittal, perpetually neutral, an “outsider”, and appearing to be devoid of emotion and love. An event in his life made him commit to a person or a relationship for a long period of time, and then that person betrayed him. That left Meursault emotionless, cynical, and afraid of commitment.

I think that even though Meursault appears to the other characters and to the reader as a neutral body, simply going through life on one note, he has emotions that he has simply buried (and continues to bury as they come up). To Meursault, love means self-reflection and digging up his old memories and reliving them. Therefore, expresses to others that love is foreign and meaningless instead of confronting his true feelings.