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Books: 4
Movies: 1
Short stories: 1
Episodes: 0
Total: 3


 Art is a crucial part of not only paintings, but dominantly in literature. Azar Nafisi believes that art is important for reasons beyond the surface purpose of escaping from reality into a fantasy world. She believes its importance is to find truths about the lives that she and others are leading that may not have been realized otherwise. Nafisi agreed with Nabokov’s claim that “readers were born free and ought to remain free” in that readers’ minds cannot be limited by the oppression of the government. The “meaning” of art is quite subjective although there is such a thing as a “wrong” interpretation of a work of literature or to a painting. Art represents different views for Humbert Humbert, Azar Nafisi, Vladimir Nabokov, Jay Gatsby, and others. Art has much social, political, and cultural value in Reading Lolita in Tehran whereas its value (at least according to Nabokov) seems to be aesthetic in Lolita.

 

            There are many different values of art that have been seen throughout various works of literature. Although there is personal value in art (for example, Azin’s red nails that “connected her to a different dimension, a place known only to Azin” [p. 267]), it is in no way limited to just that. To Nafisi, art is a separate world that the reader can escape into by literature. However, she also alludes to many other values of art that are not so rudimentary. “What we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.” Nafisi believes that there are answers that may be found within the confines of great literature. Through the art of literature, readers may be looking for what is good and ideal in the world, whether this be through stories and characters that behave in an “ideal” fashion or not. In Henry James’s The Real Thing, this same idea of “the ideal thing” is present in the transformation of Miss Churm in paintings. The narrator in the story said that “if she was lost it was only as the dead who go to heaven are lost—in the gain of an angel the more” alluding to his belief that Miss Churm became better in the imitation of life that was created in art. Nafisi also has “life imitating art imitating life” in Reading Lolita in Tehran: “I remember yellow and white daffodils; the whole living room was filled with vases of daffodils. I had put the vases not on the tables but on the floor, beside a painting of yellow flowers in two blue vases, also on the floor”.

 

            Azar Nafisi agreed with Vladimir Nabokov’s claim that “readers were born free and ought to remain free” in that she believed that despite any exterior rules or oppression, readers have the freedom of literature to escape into to live through vicariously until they are brought back into reality. The sanctuary and freedom of reading is also evident in Lolita: “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita” (p. 309).

 

            An example of the subjectivity of art is evident in Reading Lolita in Tehran in the word “upsilamba”, a word that was invented by Vladimir Nabokov. It is never said exactly what he intended for it to mean, but Nafisi instructed her students to say what the word meant for them (“let [their] minds wander” [p. 21]) by associating it with whatever they wanted. Azar associated “upsilamba” with the joy of a leap; Yassi thought it was like the name of a dance; Manna imagined a silver fish; Azin thought it was like a melody; Mashid imagined girls jumping rope; to Sanaz, it was a small African boy’s secret magical name and Nassrin imagined the word to be a magic code that opened the door to a secret cave filled with treasures. This word, this work of art, created by Nabokov was up for interpretation to Nafisi’s class to let their minds run free. 

 

            Nabokov in the afterward of Lolita said “For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm”. In Pride and Prejudice, the ideal occurs when Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth finally are on the same, ardent level with one another openly. This bliss in terms of The Real Thing is the ideal thing for the painter to achieve in his art but he found this lacking in the Monarchs, the so-called “real thing”. The aesthetic value of art in this short story was most obviously found in the plot circulating around a painter, who must focus on aesthetics in order to paint. This is an example of this “ecstasy” that Nabokov refers to, as does James, in the ideal. However, the “aesthetic bliss” in Lolita is centered on the beautiful, manipulative language of Humbert Humbert. The language effectively seduces the reader “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” (p. 9). Nabokov played with language throughout the novel such as how he invented the word “nymphet” as a way of H.H. referring to girls between the ages of nine and fourteen whom he was attracted to. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, there was a distinct lack of aesthetic strength, ironically due to the pressure put on writers by the Islamic revolutionaries. “Like all other ideologues before them, the Islamic revolutionaries seemed to believe that writers were the guardians of morality. This displaced view of writers, ironically, gave them a sacred place, and at the same time it paralyzed them. The price they had to pay for their new pre-eminence was a kind of aesthetic impotence” (p. 136).

 

            Art can have political, social, and a cultural value, as it is present in Reading Lolita in Tehran. On page 109, Nafisi said that F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted The Great Gatsby to “transcend its own time and place”. This means that the value of art in Fitzgerald’s eyes was literature that could be interpreted by anyone in any time period. People can say different things while really meaning the same thing at the heart of it, for example, Mike Gold and F. Scott Fitzgerald both writing about the American dream. To Fitzgerald, he explains dreams as appealing to our capacity for delight and wonder and Gold wrote about a more political stance that essentially meant the same as Fitzgerald’s belief. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, art is related to politics by the oppression of the regime against the art. Also, art can make you see life through different eyes (“Imagination is meant to make you feel like a stranger in your own home” p. 94). This is yet another reiteration of seeing truth in the “lies” of fiction. Nafisi said that “the best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted” which shows her interpretation of literature in that it causes introspection about the reader’s environment and themselves. Nafisi believed that the art of literature could be yearned for at a distance (like the mountains motif throughout her book), but the fantasies brought on by it could never truly be achieved. Perhaps Nafisi learned about how idealized dreams and reality could never meet through The Great Gatsby. “In the end, the best ideals and the most sordid realities all come together.” The meeting of imagined dreams and reality proved disastrous for Jay Gatsby, whose pursuit of these dreams let to his own death. However, anyone reading The Great Gatsby will be able to learn from the mistakes of the characters for themselves without ever having to go through those particular experiences. Nafisi said that Gatsby had “opened a window into [her] own feelings and desires”, which showed her finding great truth in the fiction of the book.

 

            Art had a cultural value in Reading Lolita in Tehran in the various dances that were in Pride and Prejudice that also shows the subjective nature of this particular art. Nafisi’s belief is that “different dances invite different interpretations” (p. 268) and that this form of art can also be applied to their lives and the lives of fictional characters. She identified the various dances, such as the “backwards-and-forward rhythm dance” that represented Elizabeth and Darcy being brought closer and farther away through parallel events. The “give-and-take dance” required “a constant adapting to the partners’ needs and steps” (p. 269) that Nafisi pointed out that Mr. Collins did not meet (“their inability to dance well is a sign of their inability to adapt themselves to the needs of their partners” [p. 269]). The same way that Mr. Collins was unable to meet the needs of his partner in dancing not only showed how he could not meet the needs of Elizabeth in reality (she told him that he was the last person in the world that could make her happy) but also related to a person that dated one of Nafisi’s girls, Mr. Nahvi. Mr. Nahvi was nicknamed “Mr. Collins” and was described as “placid”, “detached”, and “arrogant”, characteristics that were also parts of the fictional character Mr. Collins. Nafisi and the other women were able to identify Mr. Nahvi for what he was because of the novel Pride and Prejudice (finding truth in fiction). These dances were a part of the art of the book in terms of culture of the time period; such dances were completely regular in the context of Jane Austen’s time period and although the culture of Tehran was different than this, the artistic representation of the dances transcended time, just as it was mentioned earlier about what Fitzgerald hoped for The Great Gatsby. Henry James said that “culture and civilization were everything” and “said that the greatest freedom of man was his “independence of thought”, which enabled the artist to enjoy the “aggression of infinite modes of being”” (p. 216)

 

            There was a definite social value of art represented in various works of the semester. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, the author and many other women met for the purpose of discussing literature in secret. Once a week, these women would congregate for these discussions, risking their lives for a world of fantasy. This social value of art is also present in The Real Thing in the fact that the purpose of the narrator’s paintings was to sell cover art for books for the public. There were also great social themes in this Henry James short story in the different social classes depicted showing the Monarchs, who appeared to be wealthy individuals of the upper class and people like Miss Churm who were at the bottom rung socially. The value of art in context of this story for the narrator was simply as a means of making money, as was the same reason for the Monarchs to try to be models. Money was also a great part of The Great Gatsby as a means of portraying the social value of art. Just as in The Real Thing, Gatsby had a distinct difference between the social classes of poor and wealthy; there was Wilson and his wife who represented the lower, working class, and Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and Jay Gatsby would represented the wealthy (although Gatsby wasn’t aristocracy, but of “new money”). Furthermore, the character of Gatsby was a façade in that he had created himself. It seems that his extravagant, gaudy mansion was for the entertainment of others and was a way for him to be putting on a show, just as he was not truly Jay Gatsby, but James Gatz. The impact of the art of Gatsby socially affected many people of Tehran in Nafisi’s class when she overheard them “arguing not over the hostages or the recent demonstrations or Rajavi and Khomeini, but over Gatsby and his alloyed dream.” (p. 136).

 

            There was also a political value of art, dominantly in Reading Lolita in Tehran that ties in greatly with the social value. Art in literature was looked down upon by the oppressive government in Tehran. “One woman novelist was jailed for her writings and charged with prostitution” (p. 136), which shows how seriously the government took writers and literature—artists and art.  The political value of art was a constant struggle between the common people and of the controlling, destructive government. Art was continuously under scrutiny in Tehran by both the government and the revolutionaries alike. “The officials were forced to impose their simple formulas on fiction as they did on life. Just as they censored the colors and tones of reality to suit the black-and-white world, they censored any form of interiority in fiction; ironically, for them as for their ideological opponents, works of imagination that did not carry a political message were deemed dangerous. Thus…they found a natural adversary” (p. 277).

            In conclusion, both Nafisi and Nabokov agreed that readers ought to be able to read freely what they chose and also that they would find freedom within the confines of the fantasy world offered by fiction. Nafisi’s interpretation of art also was that readers would find the “epiphany of truth” in the falsities of fiction. Freedom could also be found in the interpretation of art (the freedom to interpret) in Nabokov’s imaginary word “upsilamba” for Nafisi’s class. Art also has an aesthetic value, especially in the language of Lolita and themes of painting in The Real Thing. Art’s cultural value lied greatly in the various dances of Pride and Prejudice and Henry James. There was further value of art socially in social classes and facades in The Great Gatsby, as well as The Real Thing. Art also possess political value in the oppressive government of Tehran. Although art has many different interpretations and values, its important role in literature and the lives of readers is undeniable.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

A few scattered thoughts in the most primitive stage of development.

A perfect blend of fantasy and personal themes that equates utter magical bliss upon viewing. Music underlies the deep tension and apprehension of the scenes by Patrick Doyle. It takes us into a world that is being unraveled once again for both the eager watchers and maybe not-so-eager.. 

I'm tired so I will finish this later. Plus...I really want to start reading that Ayn Rand book!

EDIT: Second thought...I am not going to finish this now. Later. *Nod*

The Real Thing by Henry James

Books: 1
Movies: 1
Short stories: 1
Episodes: 0
Total: 3

 
Just a journal entry (not an essay really nor a review).

An ongoing theme throughout this short story is the comparison and contrast between the rich (formerly), and upper-class couple who happened to be down on luck and seeking work and the poorer models such as Miss Churm and the Italian Oronte. The narrator at first quite naturally (after getting over the initial shock) thought that the Monarchs would be the perfect models or types to pose for pictures of the upper class. However, he soon discovered that the Monarchs truly were not the right models for this ype because they lacked the imagination that was required of them to be "the ideal thing". The model Miss Churm is described as "only a freckled cockney, but she could represent everything, from a fire lady to a sheperdess." She is the kind of person that the Monarchs turned up their noses at. The Monarchs might have felt threatened by Miss Churm as a competitor for work but they felt reassured in knowing that they were in fact "the real thing", true people of a higher class. This story makes a point to demonstrate the proper and refined countenences and cultivation of the Monarchs and the simple, crass, dirty ways of the poor models (Miss Churm enjoyed beer, could not spell, and had not "an ounce of respect"). 

It is said of Mrs. Monarch that "[h]er figure had no variety of expression--she herself had no sense of variety." The narrator tried putting her in many positions, but in the end she could only be herself ("she was the real thing but always the same thing"). The Monarchs thought that their being the real thing would be a blessing to an artist but in reality, the narrator struggled to find a type that would fit them or come close to who they really were. 

It is interesting that the narrator draws in black and white when the craft of artistry is everything but black and white. Imagination, variety, and even spontaneity are required for the models to have a successful sitting; it is mentioned that the aforementioned qualities come naturally and instinctively to a few of the low-class models but mentioned that the Monarchs can only be the real thing, themselves and nothing more. Although the Monarchs are the real thing, this is not essentially what an artist needs for his paintings because although something may be "real" that does not mean it equates beauty. In fact, I believe it is quite the opposite because reality ("the real thing") is a mixture of the beautiful but is also full of negativity, hardship, and qualities that would be deemed undesirable far a painter portray. Many people may look to art as an escape from "the real thing" or to view an ideal idea of life and there is no way that could be portrayed when using the Monarchs as models. Perhaps people would be looking for a more glorified picture of royalty or the upper class than what would be presented to them in "the real thing". 

The question comes back again from Lolita in "what is the purpose of art?" In this story, the artist/narrator sees art's purpose just as a way for him to make money. It is the same reason that the Monarchs are resorting to being models--money. Nabokov said in the afterward of Lolita "For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstacy) is the norm." These characteristics of art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstacy) is the "aesthetic bliss" that artists hope to portray in their art, much unlike the real thing.

The question of whether art imitates life or if life imitates art also comes to mind. or perhaps art imitates life that imitates art, so it is a vicious cycle. In this story, it seems that the painter wants to paint beauty of life in art and not necessarily "the real thing". The art created of the Monarchs would only be of their limited and exact social stature and class, nothing more. Mrs. Monarch misinterpreted her own character being very v isible in the picture/painting how "they look exactly like us" to be a good thing, a complement to she and her husband in a way. What the Monarchs saw as triumph, the artist saw the very same as their defect; the narator could not "get away from them--get into the character [he] wanted to represent." The narrator did not actually want the true nature of the models to be present or discoverable in the art but Mrs. Monarch took the fact that Miss Churm identity had been hidden to have been done because she was "vulgar". The narrator truly believed that Miss Churm had undergone a transformation into something much better than "the real thing" or any person could ever be James's story describes  it as "if she was lost it was only of the dead who go to heaven are lost in the gain of an angel the more." The narrator considered the art created and inspired by the model to be superior in beauty and truth, just as an angel is. People like the Monarchs hinder the creation process for the artist because they are so absolute in being "the real thing" that they leave nothing for the imagination or mere suggestion for the artist to go off on. A motif that I have noticed throughout the short story is eyes and seeing. Eyes are great windows of expression that seem to be utilized in this story (not unlike this same recurring images of eyes in Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Great Gatsby, and Araby). [Many instances throughout short story of eyes motif]. There is no time to specifically explain each quotation from the story, but the general gist of most of them are expressions without using words, such as the various looks and glances exchanged between the Monarchs. These quotes related to "seeing" also leads me to another theme throughout the story of appearance versus reality and the presence of verisimilitude (like discussed in Lolita). And yet another connection between this story and Lolita is that they both discuss parts of Dante's Inferno, specifically Dante and Beatrice (...standing there with the rapt, pure gaze of young Dante spellbound by the young Beatrice"; this also includes "gaze" referring to the eyes-related motif). Humbert used his knowledge of Dante and his young love in order  to justify his own enamorment with the young nymphets, whereas the narrator in the story uses it as a kind of smile to compare the Monarchs with Dante and Beatrice.

I then went on to go for about one and a half pages about comparing the butterfly and metamorphisis to Nabokov's Lolita, which I am pretty sure was mere coincidence. So, I left it out.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Books: 1
Movies: 1
Short stories: 0
Episodes: 0
Total: 2


This is a short review I wrote for a contest about a year or so ago (after the movie came out). There was a word count limit, so the review is pretty...well, limited. It ended up being published in the newspaper :).

At the midnight showing of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" two gangly boys sporting Darth Vader masks and red light sabers greeted me at the door. I felt as though I was entering an entirely different world. Luke and Leia Skywalkers were everywhere. The atmosphere was anxious and excited, and the audience, around 80 percent male, roared with cheers as the movie began.

The final installment of the Star Wars series was an emotional, thrilling experience that was definitely worth the wait. The emotional and action-packed scenes of "Revenge of the Sith" make up for the somewhat disappointing "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones". You definitely need a box of tissues for this dark, sad tale as you watch Anakin Skywalker undergo the terrifying transformation from the "small fry" of Episode 1 to Sith Lord, Darth Vader.

This film left the generations of Star Wars fans more than merely satisfied with the inevitable fates of the characters. The acting conveyed much emotion and depth of character. The music, too, underscores the drama and emotion present in the plot.

There are so many gut-wrenching scenes: Anakin's betrayal of Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, the manipulation of Anakin by the Dark Side, and Padme's tormented realization that the Anakin she once knew is gone. However, the audience is reassured by knowing the future in Star Wars episodes IV, V, and VI.

Whether you are a Star Wars fanatic or not, you do not want to miss "Revenge of the Sith". 

Looking over this again, I definitely over-use the word "definitely" and it is a bit weak, but time has passed since I wrote this. Hopefully I have improved considerably over time.
Books: 1
Movies: 0
Short stories: 0
Episodes: 0
Total: 1

This was an essay written for my AP European History class last year. I fully intend to start writing about books, movies, and short stories that I have read/seen recently, but until then, I decided I would include something I have done in the past:

Battling Queens: The Themes in Elizabeth & Mary

Tension between Catholics and Protestants, male domination in all aspects of life, political scandals and executions—this is the setting of Sixteenth Century England/Scotland. This also is the setting in which cousins Elizabeth I Queen of England and Mary Queen of Scots embark upon their tumultuous, tragic, and yet ultimately redeeming reigns. In Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn, three main themes present themselves throughout the lives of these two women. One of these themes is that Mary and Elizabeth are both queens who rule their kingdoms from different backgrounds and with contrasting leadership styles. Another focus of the book is the inevitable rivalry between Mary and Elizabeth brought about by jealousy and prejudice. Moreover, they are both victims of the fact that they are both females in a society where men are dominant.

The manner in which the two queens were raised differed vastly, and it is because of this that they became the women of such different personalities when they were older.
Elizabeth Tudor was considered a “bastard child” because her father’s marriage to her mother, Anne Boleyn, was considered invalid due to the fact that the Catholic Church never allowed the divorce of his previous wife. This led to the question later on of whether or not Elizabeth had a right to the throne of England, causing much doubt in her life. Elizabeth’s life was filled with such hardships as her mother’s execution when she was almost three years old, and her imprisonment in the tower when her sister was queen. In contrast, Mary Stuart was crowned queen of Scotland when she was a few months old; she did not have to defend her right to the throne, nor was it ever questionable that it was rightfully hers. Mary grew up in a world where she was spoiled with not only material things, but also with copious amounts of praise, whether she deserved it or not. Throughout her childhood, she was never presented with much of a challenge—it seemed that everything she wanted was always within her grasp. These upbringings had a great impact on how their personalities and way in which they ruled developed in the future. Elizabeth ended up benefiting from her life of hardship when she grew older; she discovered that through the tribulations and suffering of her past, she had learned an invaluable lesson: “She learned that her fate lay largely in her own hands.” (p. 104). When she was only fifteen, Elizabeth was able to defend herself against accusations concerning she and Thomas Seymour. On the other hand, when Mary was fifteen, she was deceived into signing documents that risked her entire kingdom to France, thus proving to be politically naïve. Because of the fact that in the past she had never been presented with any situation where she had to deal with any risks, challenges, or trickery, Mary was not prepared to lead a country. She was also vulnerable prey, as she had never had to defend herself in the past—everyone had always looked out for her. The ultimate example of this weakness comes into play at the end of her life, when she doesn’t have the means to defend herself in the face of death. As Elizabeth told her (p. 320): “the fine weather or fair promises and the echoes of voices which seem to hnour you above all the world should not envelop you in so thick a cloud that you may not see plain day.”

Even though Elizabeth was nine years older than Mary, they were constant rivals, especially because they were both queens of neighboring countries. Although the two queens never met face to face, they corresponded through letters throughout their reigns, often appearing to care about each other. However, they each harbored much competitiveness, and jealousy. Mary especially had her eye on the English throne, and devoted much of her life to reaching this goal either by persuading Elizabeth to name her as the heir or it is believed that she even plotted her murder. Elizabeth felt threatened by Mary’s youth, her popularity with men, and her ability to have a male heir. “The Queen of Scots is lighter of a fair son and I am but of barren stock,” Elizabeth said upon hearing of the birth of James (p. 274). When Mary was offended by Elizabeth’s objection to her marriage to Lord Darnley, there was much tension between the two “for in their hearts from that time forth there was nothing but jealousies and suspicions” (p. 221). Elizabeth formed prejudices about Mary, afraid of meeting her because she heard of Mary’s charm on people and didn’t want to risk being manipulated or bewitched. Ultimately, the two queens’ competitiveness led to Elizabeth signing the order to execute Mary.

Despite their rivalry, Mary and Elizabeth were both women in a male dominated world, and had to deal with the hardships of being women leaders. Elizabeth first faced rejection at birth when her parents (especially her mother Anne Boleyn) shunned her because they had been looking for a male heir. Throughout her life she felt insecure about her reign, and tried to reject her feminine qualities. She insisted on not marrying and being a “Virgin Queen.” “Always sensitive to the inveterate bias against her sex, Elizabeth was careful to parade her learning, and boasting of her masculine qualities of mind” (p. 245). Elizabeth made sure she had a number of male advisors who were able to counsel her. This arrangement was usually successful, however, her advisors were the ones who persuaded her to have Mary executed. Mary, on the other hand, tried to use her feminine qualities to her advantage. She ruled with her heart, and had “a gift of intimacy and spontaneous feeling which touched everyone with whom she came into contact, especially men” (p. 244). She married three times, always looking for a king to reign with her, “Mary needed to be married again, to a real husband, someone to relieve her of her virginity and provide her with an heir”(p.209). However, Mary recognized that a woman ruler was viewed differently than a male ruler. “The best woman was only the best of women,” she said (p. 21).

Despite their rivalry and struggles as women leaders, Mary and Elizabeth were able to make significant contributions during and after their reigns. Mary became a martyr and the mother of James I who united Great Britain. Elizabeth overcame her grief at Mary’s death and became a strong warrior, leading England in its triumph over the Spanish Armada, and in the end her Protestant religion triumphed under the rule of James I. At last, Elizabeth and Mary’s were realized in their deaths.