Your Canvas is Empty? Paint With Pain, Lovely Artist, Paint Your Pain.

There is something to be said about those who demand respect but do not give it. Respect isn’t necessarily a transactional term, but in this specific scenario, it should be. Janina explicitly states that she does not want to be called Janina; it’s not clear what she wants to be called, just that Janina is not a good fit for her. She believes that names should be like epithets, an expression or representation of the person that they are designated to. However, she does not respect the personal agency of other people, assigning them “names” based on their most apparent characteristics. While this example is not apparently egregious, a closer look exposes Janina for who she really is, or rather, what she identifies as. Janina believes she is an Ubermensch, a person with extraordinary abilities and the authority to use them at their own discretion. The Ubermensch is not confined by laws, morality, or any karmic system, for they are above any external repercussions. The Ubermensch is decisive in mind, actions, and resolve; however, they are their greatest enemy. Punishment is not inflicted via an external source; the Ubermensch punishes themselves.

A great example is Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment, a character similar to Janina. Raskolnikov is an impoverished university student from St.Petersburg who believes himself to be, similarly to Janina, an Ubermensch. However, they neither explicitly say they are Ubermenschs; their actions speak otherwise. The Ubermensch should be known as a title or label for a phenomenon or repeated pattern in history; it is not the actual condition but a label for it. Janina doesn’t feel remorse for killing the hunters; she is relatively unfazed, only showing great emotion when confronted with her crime. Either due to thematic or intentional choices, Janina spends very little time thinking about the killers of her dogs. While it can be assumed she thinks about them a great deal, she has demonstrated the capacity to express normal emotions and behaviors when she murders those men. P.258 “I didn’t stop to think about it. I was sure I had killed him, and it seemed quite all right. I had no pangs of conscience. I only felt great relief.” P.261 “Once again, I felt nothing but relief.” Then, with the foxes, “I wish I could forget what I saw there. Weeping, I tried to open the cages and chase out the foxes.” She feels more emotions for the animals than she does for the men. This invites the reader to think about why? P.245 “But I don’t want us to reject them, as you put it. It’s just that I refuse to let anyone encourage children to do evil things or teach them hypocrisy. Glorifying killing is evil. It’s as simple as that.” This inconsistency brings to mind the concept of the Ubermensch. This idea of the Ubermensch is defined loosely in Crime and Punishment by the main character Raskolnikov. He says that an ordinary man has to live in submission and has no right to transgress the law because he is ordinary. On the contrary, extraordinary men have the right to commit any crime and transgress the law. They are extraordinary because they are men with the gift or talent to utter a New Word. Janina, in a way, punishes herself via her illness (which I believe is a cause of repressed emotions having a physical manifestation) as opposed to any punishment via usual avenues such as the police. She expresses her ability to transgress the law without repercussions by doing so. She also shows her free and complete agency over herself, even if that control is used to punish herself.

To Janina, moral and ethical hypocrisy matters are nothing in the face of a purpose. She lends herself to her ideas, divorcing herself from any accountability and guilt (supposedly). This is where Janina becomes more than just a person, but something resembling a thought experiment. Throughout the book, we, the reader, are exposed to many elements likely foreign to us, such as living entirely alone in the woods, complex astrology, and many different types of soliloquy and poetry. In the beginning, all of these concepts are foreign and divergent from what we are used to, and we look at them with wary, skeptical eyes. But as we live with Janina and follow her throughout 200+ pages, we begin to warm up to these ideas, not necessarily accepting them but just coming to understand them more. However, the end of the book and its subsequent reveal change the framing of this socialization.

Janina does not want to be called Janina; she explicitly states so. However, you will notice that nearly everyone who has finished the books calls her Janina. Whenever I wrote or talked about Drive Your Plow before the reveal, I referred to her as narrator. I respected her wishes as someone I was living with, sharing the same headspace, and learning about. I refer to her as Janina now because of what she has done and what she represents. No matter the ideological purity, righteousness, or moral piety, murder in such a way is not tolerable. There is something to be said about how the only alternative, the bureaucracy/police/law, was heavily biased against Janina. How this avenue for change had been tried and tested with no results, and how, if real change were to be made, it would take decades. Violence in pursuit of an otherwise unobtainable goal is a grey area and something one should not resort to. What is good and wrong is not defined by you but by others around you. Every action incurs a reaction, and humans respond to that act accordingly. We are pack animals by nature; we have a base instinct to be liked and to have more people in our “circle.” The reason for this is that in pre-historic times larger groups of humans were the ones to survive, and the same is true today. You alter your behavior constantly based on what others around you like or dislike; good and evil are not absolute truths. The moral grey encompasses much of our lives and is something we deal with all of the time; however, to each his one, everyone has a different perspective and views. Humans can be loosely defined as an intricately woven web of past experiences, cerebral processes, and imagination. As humans, we can never truly relate to one another, but we must try to sympathize with the plights of others. This is what Tokarczuk invites us to do. She invites us to think, weigh the options, and to consider the following:

  • Is violence for a cause justifiable?
  • Is violence justifiable at all?
  • What do you do when all options have been exhausted?
  • Are divergent ideologies acceptable?
  • How does one deal with repressed emotions?
  • How should one cope with their own biases?
  • Is a tortured artist a better artist?
  • Etc, etc.

But, the most important question presented by Tokarczuck to the reader is Janina. When viewed through the final few chapters, Janina is more of a concept than a person. She invites the reader to question the very fabric of people and whether their past experiences justify their actions. She makes the reader critical of the people she wrote about and the concepts they represent.

The News Makes Me Depressed

A return to form is needed in the new age of ever-increasing digital consumerism and even greater variety in said medium. All this brand-new shiny content is coming at you fast! 24/7, 365 days a year, every hour, every minute, every second, and all of it I have to pay attention to! It’s all too… complex. God! I wish things weren’t so complex! Don’t you hate it when things aren’t spoon-fed to you? When they have depth and nuance? What happened to good ole reliable newspapers? One column from a trusted, corporate, and infallible source was all that was needed! It is of the utmost impertinence that we do our duty as red-blooded American consumers to devour everything in our path. Oh! to return to the bliss of all my news coming from a smooth-talking radio host and a piece of paper every morning instead of from the cold, unfeeling, and calculating screen. Media integrity has been wrought with deceit! I want to see the news, consume the news, and live the news! But not like this? I don’t want to see it all! Y’know what they say! Out of sight, out of mind! What is news besides entertainment anyways? I want a spectacle! I want it to be sensational! I want to see disasters, explosions, and war! (not in my backyard, though) By opening my phone and scrolling through my feed, I’ve seen it all. From papers to radio to phones, the amount of information we are nearly forced to consume gets larger daily! I don’t want to think about what I see, and I don’t want to hear differing viewpoints; I want to hear what I think is true! I don’t want to think about it anymore. I don’t think I like media at all…

The One Who Mattered Most

King Lear is an overt tragedy in both format and execution; it’s no secret. As soon as you start reading, you see the seeds of deceit being sewn into the seams of this story that will seemingly spell the unsightly demise of these Shakespearean characters. Despite the tragedy being an ever-present theme and it being noticeably rolled out throughout the story, Shakespeare can hide it from moment to moment; and when he does this, you believe (whether you know it or not) that it is true. At certain parts of the story (the storm, Lear’s reconciliation with Cordelia, Edgar’s treatment of Gloucester, and Kent’s treatment of Lear), you forget that you reading a tragedy, a semblance of an ordinary story with linear progression and a happy ending starts to emerge. For example, Lear makes up with Cordelia at the end of the play, and when they are both being arrested, he comforts her in a moment of genuine love and care; Lear is righting his previous wrongs and being a better person and father to Cordelia. While being a decent human being and a good father is an outstanding achievement, this is special. Lear, mere scenes before, could not function as a human on a basic scale; he was incomprehensible, blabbering like a baby for entire pages while those around him tried to help him. He was inconsolable when he went mad, but even before, he was a problematic character to reason with. In any society, certain positions have greater power and, thus, more significant importance in said society. While this rule is not wholly accurate (frontline workers, manual laborers, and many others I’m sure I’m unaware of), it is 100% true in Lear’s case. A king IS the state, and the state serves the king, not vice versa. A king is chosen to be endowed with absolute power by bloodline, political power, or sacred providence; absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Lear was no exception. The play starts with Lear putting his vanity and brash rudeness on full display, making a fool out of himself and being stupid. Lear is nothing but a king, so when he decides to step down from power, he sets in motion his own defeat. When Lear loses his power, he loses himself because all he’s ever had was power; it’s all he knows. Lear stepped down from power, and in doing so, Lear loses his identity; the thing that made Lear King Lear is now gone. His power came from the perception of his power, and the perception of Lear was a king, and a king has great power. To be a king, Lear needs to be powerful, to have others beckon to his every whim, to wait for him to enter rooms, and to wait for him to command them; this exertion of power is only possible due to society giving Lear that power because Lear is king. So when he gives up his power, he gives up being king, and in giving up being king, he gives up being Lear. Alongside Lear losing his identity, he is humiliated, babied, and disposed of whatever semblance of respect and power he has left. This is partly due to the scheming of those around him and his foolishness in exiling Kent and disavowing Cordelia, two people who genuinely care about him and support him. This pushes Lear over the edge into madness and, subsequently, the storm.

The storm is a physical metastasization of the turmoil present within Lear. He loses everything and is cast into madness; he is not in the right mind and cannot take care of himself. Lear’s lowest point is when the Fool leaves his side as the Fool is as dedicated and loyal to Lear as Cordelia and Kent. At this moment, Lear is reduced to nothing, and this is where King Lear’s true genius is shown. The absence of hope is where hope resides; when all the walls come tumbling down, and all you know is lost, that is when you truly begin to see. Lear leaves the storm, still mad but seeing the truth in his madness. Lear learned a lot in the storm; the storm represented the overwhelming power of nature, forcing Lear to acknowledge his own mortality and vulnerability. It symbolized divine justice and the political chaos in Britain. The storm serves to humble Lear and highlights the fragility of power. just like Gloucsters blindness, it makes them aware of the error of their ways and is a literary vehicle to progress their character and give them the growth they deserve. Lear has grown so much from where he began; he has come to understand that it is not about him. Lear is a character that experiences a profound transformation over the course of the play. Through his journey, he learns to recognize the limitations of his power and the importance of humility, compassion, and understanding. He serves as a representation of the transformative power of suffering and the possibility of redemption. The change he experienced gave him the tools to be a great king, a great person, and a great father. We see these changes in Lear start to take hold when he is arrested and imprisoned with Cordelia. If King Lear were a normal story, France would’ve defeated Britain, Goneral, Reagan, and Edmund would have been imprisoned for conspiracy. Lear would rule Britain, and Cordelia and France would rule France. Because, just as Lear had changed, so had Cordelia (kinda).

France is the only one who sees Cordelia in act 1 for what she truly is, and when she returns later in the play, it’s clear that others have begun to realize too. Cordelia is a natural-born leader; she’s a symbol of wisdom, power, and kindness. Most people in King Lear are evil and nasty, which is telling because the characters in King Lear are especially human. Goneril and Reagan juxtapose Cordelia with their power-hungry ways. They use people for their own personal gain and then toss them aside when they are of no use to them anymore; they scheme and plot in the shadows while masking their true intentions. Cordelia is righteous and pure she doesn’t hide who she is and is loved for it. Cordelia is kind to others, something not seen in the play often, and is willing to forgive. She also genuinely cares about people and this characterization of Cordelia as someone whose powerful but vulnerable draws others to her; she draws her power from her vulnerability, she mitigates her weaknesses and effectively utilizes her strengths. She is a much better ruler than Goneril or Reagan. But, we never get to see Cordelia’s righteous rule as she is killed in prison in front of Lear. As Lear walks into the scene holding Cordelia’s lifeless body, he breaks. King Lear learns that justice is an illusion and humans are like animals, but still, he cannot accept his daughter Cordelia’s death. He finds it unjust that other animals are alive while she is dead, and his inability to come to terms with his loss makes his death even more tragic. Despite the newfound wisdom and understanding he has gained, Lear’s inability to cope with Cordelia’s death highlights the emotional toll of loss and the power of grief. Lear’s growth, both personal, and as a king, are lost with him. The kingdom is put into hands that are ill-suited to rule as they did not learn the same lessons. Albany, Kent, and Edgar (assuming Kent doesn’t follow Lear into death) are all good people and good leaders, but none of them have learned how to rule like Lear has. King Lear sets up Lear to grow and to metamorphosize into a great leader, but his life is cut short because of the ugliness of the world. Shakespeare sets up Lear’s story as a great redemption arc, he was supposed to be the leader everyone needed at the time that they needed him, but he dies. Despite Lear’s death, his change is not futile. Revolutions in history often lead to even worse conditions than the ones that caused said revolutions; however, that doesn’t stop people from revolting. Change isn’t pointless due to its inherent futility, if that were true then nothing would ever change. Just because we will all die one day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to change. Change is the constant state of human nature, it happens whether you like it or not. Lear’s growth and development was still important because, in the end, he ended a better man than when he started. Change is not futile despite its inevitability of meaninglessness because change itself can bring meaning to life. Even though the universe is ultimately meaningless, change allows individuals to create their own purpose and find meaning in their experiences. Just as Gloucester was given a reason to live because of Edgar tricking him, Lear was given a new purpose to live in the form of Cordelia. At the beginning of the play, King Lear is focused on maintaining his power and authority as a king. He is consumed by his pride and ego and values flattery and material possessions above all else. However, as the play progresses and Lear is stripped of his power and wealth, he begins to search for a deeper meaning in life. Eventually, Lear comes to realize that his relationships with his daughters, particularly Cordelia, are what give his life meaning. His love for Cordelia becomes the central reason for his existence, and her death leaves him devastated and unable to find purpose in life. In the end, Lear’s reason to live shifts from material possessions and power to the love and relationships he has with those around him. He realizes that these relationships are the source of his greatest happiness and meaning in life. While this growth is good and all, if King Lear was not a tragedy and instead had an outcome where Lear lives and happily ruled the kingdom, all of this wouldn’t seem see bleak. However, King Lear being a tragedy also gives it new meaning and a new interpretation. Despite Lears change having different effects on the world in both a tragedy where he ends up dead, and a story with a happy ending where he lives and rules as a just and fair leader, one thing is made clear in King Lear; Lear was the one who mattered most.

Unto you: Shared Experiences Through Art

“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” lyrics

In “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” Kendrick Lamar explores themes of identity, loss, and redemption through his own experiences and observations. The song’s title refers to Lamar’s desire to be remembered and have his story told through music, even after his death.

Throughout the song, Lamar grapples with the complexities of his identity and how it has been shaped by his positive and negative experiences. He reflects on his poverty, violence, and addiction; and how they have impacted his sense of self.

At the same time, Lamar also speaks to the broader disenfranchisement and injustice he sees in the world around him. He speaks about the struggles of marginalized communities and the ways in which they are often overlooked or mistreated by society.

The lyrics are deeply emotional and introspective, and Lamar’s delivery is raw and powerful. Through his music, he confronts his own struggles and encourages others to do the same, offering hope and redemption.

I woke up this morning and figured I’d call you
In case I’m not here tomorrow
I’m hopin’ that I can borrow
A peace of mind, I’m behind on what’s really important
My mind is really distorted
I find nothing but trouble in my life
I’m fortunate you believe in a dream

Kendricks’s reference to death and dreams shows the hopelessness and misanthropic inner monologue he developed in his childhood. Hope is all he has, as he hopes for a better life. The line “I’m fortunate you believe in a dream” may reference Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, which described his hopes for a future free of racial segregation. Mym find

My plan’s rather vindictive
Everybody’s a victim in my eyes
When I ride it’s a murderous rhythm
And outside became pitch black
A demon glued to my back, whispering “Get ’em!”

As he said before, his “mind is really distorted,” so now that Dave has been shot, his brother wants revenge.

Dave is a friend of Lamar’s who was killed in a drive-by shooting. Dave’s death is a central theme in the song, as Lamar reflects on the loss of his friend and the impact it had on him and those around him.

Lamar uses Dave’s story to explore more prominent themes of identity, mortality, and social injustice. He reflects on how Dave’s death has affected him personally and how it reflects the larger issues of violence and inequality in society. Dave’s story becomes a way for Lamar to explore these broader themes and challenge listeners to think about the impact of these issues on their own lives.

This Piru shit been in me forever
So forever I’ma push it, wherever, whenever
And I love you ’cause you love my brother like you did
Just promise me you’ll tell this story when you make it big
And if I die before your album drop, I hope— [Gunshots]

The term “Piru shit” refers to the Pirus, a street gang based in Compton, California. The Pirus are known for their involvement in drug trafficking and other illegal activities, and the term “Piru shit” is often used to refer to the gang’s activities and culture.

Lamar references the Pirus and “Piru shit” in the song as part of a larger exploration of identity, mortality, and social injustice. He reflects on how the culture of gangs and violence, such as the Pirus, has affected him and those around him and how it reflects larger issues of inequality and injustice in society.

Kendrick also expresses his love for someone else, likely a friend or family member, who has a close relationship with the speaker’s brother. They ask this person to tell their story and share their experiences if they ever become successful or “make it big.”

The reference to the gunshots and the speaker’s hope that they don’t die before Kendrick’s album is released is likely a reference to the violence and danger associated with gang culture and life on the streets. It suggests that the speaker is aware of the risks they face and hopes to see the other person succeed before meeting an untimely demise.

unadulterated human, Meursault is the least human human

An old Chinese curse goes along the lines of, “May he be blessed to live in interesting times.” Insinuating that times of danger and uncertainty are the most creative times in history. However, I disagree, a simple life is a life worth living. Children when they are born are endowed with a fundamental sense of fairness, right, wrong, and justice. And while they lack the cognitive functions to see the nuances of these issues it’s still a point worth making. Meursault’s life and characterization go against his base human biological state, exemplifying his general lack of moral compass or lack of acknowledgment of said compass. While Meursault is a human, he does miss a certain part of being a human, the innate sense of accountability that almost all humans feel, and this transgression is shown rather brutally. While the court, trial, and justice system is not the perfect example of this innate sense of right and wrong endowed on children, it serves as a sort of caricature of it. Meursault is almost an observer, and when he is yanked out of his orbit and brought down to reality, he is forced to confront the fact that he is not quite like the others. A simple life is often a life living, but too simple of a life seemingly strips away an innate human aspect.

A different lens. Perspective, and a giant elephant.

From a normal book/story perspective, The Elephant Vanishes is a good story. It does everything right and hits all hallmarks of an average story. It keeps you engaged, is cohesive, has very presentable and digestible themes, and has a natural logical conclusion (rhetorically wise, it ends with an event that drives a pragmatic person insane). But one thing is different about this story, something stands out, something doesn’t fit in. Perspective.

A story about an elephant and his keeper has a shockingly low amount of dialogue from the elephant and his keeper, it actually has no amount of dialogue directly from these characters. Murakami took a different approach to the telling and perspective of the narrative of this story when he went about writing it. Instead of having the reader come to know, relate, and eventually understand the elephant and the keeper, both individually and their relationship to one another, via dialogue, interactions with themselves, and other characters, it was done entirely through indirect characterization. The narrator is an unnamed man who we come to learn about and understand through traditional methods (direct characterization), everything we know about the keeper and elephant is through the lens of this man. We learn about how the narrator thinks, how he acts, how he lives, and how he adapts. He remarks upon himself at the end of the story commenting on how he has made his company a lot of money because of him, showing he is adept at anticipating and accommodating the ever-evolving needs of the consumer base we know he has 0 relations to. When asked how he feels about his work he mentions that he has a personal and professional opinion. He mentions that in his professional opinion he believes that each kitchen should have a certain unity, and his personal opinion is that he doesn’t really care. To him, a kitchen is a kitchen and it really doesn’t need more than the basic essentials to function. Not only does this display his pragmatism, it also shows that despite not being emotionally invested or relating any way to his work, but he can also still put himself in the place of the consumers and anticipate what they would want. He is a man who is incredibly capable of adapting to his current environment, he logically dissects his situation and responds appropriately. Another way we are shown how he thinks and approaches situations is in his conversation with the unnamed woman he meets at a party. He is very aware of the situation he is in and is acutely aware that the topic would immediately end all real conversations or chemistry they had. Murakami characterized the narrator as someone who is adaptable, pragmatic, obsessive, and aware. This is the lens through which the story is told, and the lens through which this story is taken to a new level.

A story about an elephant and zoo keeper vanishing is not an entirely new, inventive, groundbreaking, or particularly interesting topic. However, the perspective of the story makes it such. We get to see how this event unfolds through the lens of someone we have come to know and have a good grasp on their character. It deeply disturbs him as it is something that cannot be logically explained. It started as something that he would take a bit of his time out of in the morning to keep track of, or an interesting topic to read and ponder about to something that is actively intruding into his personal life and has introduced a chaotic imbalance into his life. When discussing the elephant with the woman at the party, he talks about him glimpsing the elephant shrinking and the keeper enlarging. The woman is perplexed but can fathom this, the narrator, however, trusts what he sees but is disturbed by it. He saw something that could not, should not, and would not have normally happened. And he tries, but ultimately fails to grasp it, and it shows in how he comments on how he doesn’t think he can trust his own perceptions anymore. His sense of normality and comfort in his surrounding has been replaced with a sense of uneasiness and imbalance. And this is where we see the true impact of the elephant vanishes. We as the reader cannot truly fathom the premise of the story, it’s not something we can relate to in any way shape, or form. But through the characterization and progression of the story through the narrative element of the unnamed narrator, we can see the actual effects of the story. Transforming a decent story and premise into a masterclass on how to change a story through perspective.

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.