Monday, June 19, 2006

Mysteries Decoded (part 1)

This is the beginning of a series of short essays I've been throwing around in my head for quite some time. I figured that I might as well use this space to exercise my critical eye - especially since the little snippets and quotations I was posting garnered very little feedback. Yes, this is my writing, as derivative as it may be. I'd appreciate any comments whatsoever - on style and content - and keep in mind that this is part of some larger picture:

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Roland Barthes’ essay “The Nautilus and the Drunken Boat” is a wonderful short, critical essay on the work of Jules Verne. The essay is a structuralist analysis of The Mysterious Island, the second and final installment of Captain Nemo’s adventures aboard the Nautilus. With a bit of sarcasm, Barthes calls it an “almost perfect novel,” submitting it as the epitome of a type of childlike delight. The most interesting aspect of Barthes’ criticism, however, is the fact that the subject of his essays is never the real topic of discussion. Rather than merely cast judgment on Verne’s credibility as an author, Barthes resuscitates Verne as a symptom of larger cultural epoch.

The Nautilus comes to signify an infantile desire for the finite. He writes:

Ships in Jules Verne are perfect cubby-holes, and the vastness of their circumnavigation further increases the bliss of their closure… The Nautilus, in this regard is the most desirable of all caves: the enjoyment of being enclosed reaches its paroxysm when from the bosom of this unbroken inwardness, it is possible to watch, through a large window-pane, the outside vagueness of the waters, and thus define, in a single act, the inside by means of its opposite.
The Nautilus is the ultimate exploration vessel. The ship represents the technological impalement of nature. The threat of the unknown is neutralized via cartography - the determined classification of each and every hidden crevasse of the earth. We emphasize the dual idea of penetration and enclosure with some risk. A knowable universe would indeed constitute a return to the womb, but the intention here is not to diagnose Verne with some sort of private neurosis. More specific than any thesis of human nature, the Nautilus characterizes a lingering, yet transformed, Enlightment ideology that quite possibly continues to this day. The mold should be quite familiar still: an insatiable thirst for quick answers, for mysteries solved with theatrical flair and conclusiveness, all wrapped up into a rapidly consumable package.

3 comments:

Drunk On Arrival said...

Eh, sorry I never got to that essay way back when. I've been too busy choke-slamming real life to do much of anything literary recently.

Anyway, to this. It's a good opening. Like you said, it's part of a bigger piece, which makes it hard to critique. You don't throw much material out there yet, but I think it's a great thesis for something larger. Let's see where it goes.

Now, specifics...

---The most interesting aspect of Barthes’ criticism, however, is the fact that the subject of his essays is never the real topic of discussion.---

Huh? I don't know if that's possible, and if it is, it just sounds sloppy. Regardless, I think mentioning it just clutters the essay. I think the transition will work fine without mentioning that Barthe diverges from the main subject of his essay.

---The Nautilus comes to signify an infantile desire for the finite.----

That's an interesting concept. I'd like to see you elaborate on it more. I think you expanding on the idea would be infinitely more interesting than the quote, actually. I'd suggest you flesh the idea out into its own paragraph or series of paragraphs.

---The Nautilus is the ultimate exploration vessel.---

What makes it that?

---The ship represents the technological impalement of nature.---

When you say impale, do you mean it's merely exploring nature, or brutally sodomizing it at the same time?

---The threat of the unknown is neutralized via cartography---

If you'd elaborated on the infantile obsession with the finite, I think this statement would have even more of an impact.

---More specific than any thesis of human nature, the Nautilus characterizes a lingering, yet transformed, Enlightment ideology that quite possibly continues to this day.---

I love that idea. How does the ideology continue?




You have some really interesting ideas throughout. You mention that it's going to be part of something larger, which definitely makes sense. But before you start adding on new sections, I'd think long and hard about doing some internal expansion. A lot of the juicier premises don't have enough time to breathe.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the comments dude. I'm glad the choke-slamming that is life is going well (I presume). I like where this is going, thanks. It *is a beginning. I'm trying to take this extemely lucid moment that I like in Barthes, and extract an idea of my own.
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"subject of his essays is never the real topic of discussion" - you're right, the transition gets choppy here. I'll cut it. The idea gets fleshed out in the next sentence anyway - that we get a sense of something greater behind the subject of analysis, in this case Verne.

"infantile desire for the finite" - You're right, I should flesh this out. The idea is basically that rationallizing the world makes it smaller and less threatening - a map of the pacific can fit in your hand, while the *real pacific could drown you a million times over.

"When you say impale, do you mean it's merely exploring nature, or brutally sodomizing it at the same time" -- yes and yes, that is what I'm suggesting. I kind of like it how it is - I want to tone down the Freudian aspects of my writing, to merely hint at sexuality rather than say - but if you think I can get away with it...
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Thanks, buddy. I'll definitely work on that internal expansion stuff.

Jeremy said...

And oh yeah, sorry Dave, I forgot the bigfish: the "Enlightenment ideology" - I want show how a certain attitude about discovery - this childlike delight - has been commodified and become a part of mass culture. I have a couple of examples in mind, but I'm sure there are tons.