30 December 2015

Finding an Identity Amid Total Spiritual Entrapment

In Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, Chihiro Ogino (Daveigh Chase, the English voice actor) ventures inescapably into the nearby world of spirits—her parents stolen from her and transformed into pigs before her eyes—and strives to take back her family, and her own rediscovered and reformed identity, in the midst of all of the madness.

On her family's move to a new town, while Chihiro wishes only for a level of control within her newly hectic life, her parents insist upon exploring the area, soon destined to fall into a trap of the spirits, by devouring someone else's well prepared meal in a seemingly abandoned amusement park. Left alone with her new mentor, Haku (Jason Marsden, the English voice actor), who pushes her to assimilate into the local bathhouse, the home of the local spirits, Chihiro hopes only to return with her parents.

29 December 2015

"Cheese and Ham Panini #LivingTheDream": A Look at Frank

Leonard Abrahamson's Frank illustrates the mundane realities to which much of fringe artistry is condemned, channeling the often unfocused creative tendencies of a nearly incomprehensible rock band in its exploration of their months of recording sessions—locked away in a remote home within an unending forest—and of their adverse journey from Ireland to Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest music festival.

Indeed, Frank is a notation of the repercussions of seemingly unresolvable rifts among differing powerful creative forces when forced together for too long.

28 December 2015

Blue Ruin, a Review

A story of grief, revenge, and insecurity, Blue Ruin—written, directed, and photographed by Jeremy Saulnier—illustrates the treacherous journey of a man hoping to dispatch the perpetrators of his wronged past.

The protagonist, Dwight (Macon Blair), after years of residence within a shoddy car adjacent to an aged boardwalk, upon hearing from a local police officer that the murderer of his parents is due to be released, begins his multi-state trek to discover the killer, Wade Cleland, Jr. (Sandy Barnett), and exact revenge.

It is only after their bloody confrontation, though, in which Dwight stabs Wade, leaving him to die as he steals his car to escape, that the crux of the irony of this film begins to take hold: While it is solely because of the decades-old double-murder that Dwight initially attempts to seek revenge, the remainder of the film details the—only questionably justifiable—continued streak of bloody vengeance between the two families, tolling life by life for the sake of their lost ones.

23 December 2015

Art and Activism: A Purpose, A Medium, and a Hope for Change

Many believe that art, merely by its existence and its aesthetic value, inherently portrays a specific ideology. However, it may be most realistic to contend that art, throughout time, has served as a medium for expression, rather than manifesting within itself a belief system standardized among all elements of the discipline. Indeed, art exists as an opportunity for the artist to portray her own ideologies and her own opinions, and, provided she attracts an actively engaged audience, potentially provide the informational or emotional importance in effecting positive change to the problems the art addresses. <1> Moreover, art can encompass both wishes for pacifism and the like for militaristic engagement, among other ideas—the ideology it may portray cannot be limited in direction by the medium itself. Rather, art preaches empathy to those who grapple with it, fostering the beginnings of emotional understanding across boundaries that differ from portrait to portrait but nonetheless exist among all artistic works, while simultaneously pushing its viewers to yearn and to search for a greater solution to the problems it addresses. If the power of empathy for those struggling with new, different, and unique challenges may direct an audience to ameliorate the hardships of the other, brought to the viewer’s eyes via the art itself, however, the intent of the author effectively suffers from the strain of mortality, as the only aspect of the artistic piece that lives beyond its own production is the viewer’s actions after engaging with the work. The activist ideology of any work is ultimately the stream of meaning stringing across the audience’s forthcoming actions, the light streaming from the portrait, penetrating the viewers’ eyes, that encourages the diligent spectators to witness the weeping women of another world and care for them, fight their oppressors, or stand idly by the interpersonal torture. Ultimately, a reading of Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, combined with contemporaneous visual art, suggests that art’s usage, the historical contexts of its societal impact and its post-production employment in pushing for positive change to the problems it addresses—rather than merely its existence—encapsulates its power for activism in whichever direction its audience, after grappling with the work, decides.

Langston Hughes and Pragmatic Pacifism

In both his dispatches in the Spanish Civil War and his contemporaneous poetry of life in Black America, Langston Hughes brings forth, into the larger conversation of peace, justice, and human rights studies, a methodology that I call “pragmatic pacifism,” which imagines positive peace as a goal, while sustaining negative pacifist policy in the process of attaining that global culture of peace. With his theory, Hughes elevates the conquest of peace to a certainly realistic one, involving ruthlessly destroying foreign fascism, as well as systematically dismantling domestic racism. Given his violent methods for the former, however, it is difficult to declare Hughes a genuine pacifist without understanding his mixed ideologies and relabeling his beliefs under the structure of pragmatic pacifism, a methodology that he actively attempts to leverage in contemporaneous policy. Nevertheless, Hughes presents a novel style of pacifism that employs violent and militant techniques with pacifist motivations to instill a long-lasting culture of equal opportunity, regardless of demographic differences. This innovative technique for pacifism may ultimately be the most effective pacifist stance yet formulated, as it rests upon nonradical governmental changes, without necessitating the elimination of any government structures, such as the military, while simultaneously demanding massive societal reconsiderations, meriting the end of unjustified social practices, such as institutionalized racism.

Die Fotografien: Omitting the Face of Total War to Ignite Pacifism

In her testament to positive peace, pragmatic empathy, and practical distributions of power, Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf captures the essence of the Spanish Civil War and positive, all-inclusive pacifism, all while failing to publish in her text any photograph remotely depicting the violence. In great irony, Woolf fails to include a single photograph of the contemporaneous Spanish terror. Instead, leveraging the inherent power of visuality within her text, she injects, in the midst of her words, five photographs of British men prominent in the international spheres of military and academia, which ultimately serve to expose and highlight amid her argument for peace the traumatic gender-based hierarchy rampaging throughout Great Britain. Thus, in maintaining her firm credence that articulating atrocity through words, rather than strictly visual media, intellectually, instead of animalistically, Woolf charges the world to fight war with peace, injustice with thoughtful care, by scribing her letters with a charred pen, allowing her words to be her only weapons against tyranny, in Western Europe and beyond.

12 September 2015

Whose Responsibility is a Collegiate Overthrow?

In Virginia Woolf’s manifesto for gender-based equality, Three Guineas, she challenges contemporary universities—age-old institutions of higher learning, competition, and economic viability—because of their exclusion of all women, deconstructing their very foundations and scribing new blueprints of a more just, more powerful educational sub-society, one that would train all of its students in the arts of both intellectual curiosity and ethical behavior. However, in proposing her ideations of an “experimental college,” she fails to enumerate communal ramifications for straying from her individual didactic stipulations, thus eliminating the possibility for any future positive collegiate universalism (Woolf 43).

09 September 2015

Allocating War’s Advantages to a Future of Cross-Cultural Activism

In Paul Saint-Amour’s introduction to Tense Future, he depicts a disheartening view of what many imagine to be peacetime prosperity by imposing on it the terrible ramifications of war: a communal, never-ending fear of death and destruction, thus asserting that the mere existence of past war-related trauma inevitably refutes any future public declaration that peace—an impossible “refuge from anxiety and history”—will ever arrive (Saint-Amour 10). Indeed, relying on Lewis Mumford, he insists that anticipating future violence is comparable to dying “a thousand deaths” (qtd. in Saint-Amour 7). Furthermore, Saint-Amour expands upon his conclusions of peacetime’s ultimate bane: “The warning is the war; the drill and the raid are one” (Saint-Amour 13).

09 August 2015

Reconsidering our Allegiance to Modern Social Technology

In Professor Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk, “Connected, but alone?” she grapples with the central paradox of the modern influx of social networking technology across nearly every living generation: what has originally assisted us in connecting with other people may ironically lead to the demise of our socialization altogether. Unfortunately, specifically in the Millennial generation, her contention about our seemingly unending use of cellphones and social media may be correct, and the repercussions of our reliance on technology as a substitute for genuine human connection may be catastrophic. Indeed, as its impacts transcend far beyond merely the avenues through which we send and receive basic information, our contemporarily proliferative use of social media may lead to such cruel ramifications as both decayed conversational skills and marred interpersonal relationships.

07 June 2015

A Reflection on Now

In such a time of rapid changes, endings, and beginnings, I continue, for as long as I can, to repeat old customs (visiting teachers, still attending classes, extending my final goodbyes to my contrabassoon—and soon my bassoon, as well), and I slowly begin to grapple with the once-reverie of a new life style, a new community, and a newly strained network of friends from home, planning my future years partially to be a continuation of my last, only hoping that my goals and aspirations for college are those that I want due to their intrinsic value, rather than their mere resemblance of my old self, of the habits with which I've become comfortable. I hope that a break from this transition—my journey to work on an organic farming cooperative in southern France—will prove to provide me learning, "experience," and some guidance for my (hopefully successful) continuation of this transition, but, in fact, I'm consciously aware that these are only my desires, and that time's forward progression will be the only factor in truly determining how I choose to be. So, for now, I wait, delighting in the smiles and photos and hugs and final goodbyes I exchange, confident, unprepared, yet seemingly ready for whatever I face in the months and years ahead.

05 June 2015

To Utilize our Privileges for the Betterment of Humanity: A Discussion of Howard Zinn's "Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress"

In Howard Zinn’s “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” he explores three main ideas, using the early European conquest of America as a case study: the lack of an American “national interest”; the oppressors’ role in deciding events of historical merit; and that in times of sacrifice for innovation, historians must always firstly look to the oppressed peoples for proper justification. In discussing an “American national interest,” Zinn argues that although “governments, conquerors, diplomats, [and] leaders” throughout history have contended that the existence of a “national interest” is the excuse for their subjugation of others, “nations are not communities and never have been”; ergo, as nation-states rarely ever look after the interests of their entire populace, it is imperative for onlookers to trust both the stories of the conquerors and the conquered, in order to develop a truer sense of the past. Additionally, Zinn contends that history mustn’t be decided by oppressors, but instead through scrutinizing a variety of contemporaneous perspectives. Be the societies or sub-societies the native Americans, the New York Irish, the industrial-age women, the socialists, or the national Islamic community, rarely ever have a conquered society’s writings entirely vanished, and it is to any critically thinking person’s advantage to explore the punishments of the past in order to ruminate on new ideas for post-modern political ideologies. Lastly, Zinn declares that, in times of sub-communal sacrifice for innovation, the privileged minority executing new “national” policies must consult the damned communities within its midst, for he argues that we, as people, may never maintain “the right to throw into the pyre the children of others, or even our own children, for a progress which is not as nearly clear or present as sickness or health, life or death.” While Zinn utilizes the early conquest of the Native American populations as a case study for each of his ideas, these lessons ultimately apply to most, if not all, of history and contemporary political affairs, stemming from the early subjugation of Native Americans to the present proliferate use of styrofoam, ultimately pulling us to form our own conclusions towards behaving justly and utilizing our privileges for the betterment of humanity.

An 800-Year History of Mesoamerica

Although during 600-1400 CE, trade between the North and South American continents mostly never occurred, divided by present-day Panama, Americans traded across most of North America and a significant portion of South America both luxury goods and religious items. Furthermore, although mostly, Americans utilized free markets, as the Incas developed (1200 CE), they transitioned into a government-operated trade network.

Islam in Western Afro-Eurasia

In order to expand its empire, the Muslim world’s methods of conquest differed by region, subtly addressing each’s nuances with new tactics. Thus, in Spain and western Africa in the centuries after 1000 CE, while Islamic forces conquered Spain, the Islamic merchants slyly infiltrated western Africa. Additionally, as Islamic Spaniards generally subjugated, the newly converted Muslims within western Africa rarely followed suit. Nevertheless, Islam’s proliferation admitted both societies into the global network of Islamic trade and education, stimulating new innovations in each society.

A Commencement Address to the Class of 2015

ON AN OTHERWISE EXHILARATING THURSDAY EVENING, after finally bidding the world my daily goodbye, I lay on my bed, writhing in excruciating pain of which I could only barely discern the origin.

After drudging through a 15-minute self-examination in my bathroom, I plodded, 10 steps in the hallway, until I reached my mother’s bed, on which I forced myself to lean, slowly moaning, “Mom, wake up… Mom, I twisted a ball.”

She looked at me, chuckling until she discovered the tears gliding across my unshaven face. Within minutes, she guided me into the Glenbrook Hospital Emergency Room Reception Center, where I waited for half an hour until a doctor could see me — apparently, someone had a cold. After three doses of morphine, 300 ultrasound images of my scrotum, and three hours of the most embarrassingly painful moment of my life, I lay unconscious on the operating table, opened up in ways I'd never before imagined, to form the most stressful moment of my mom’s life.

Without voicing too many details, all turned out well; I can still have children one day.

04 June 2015

On My Forever Distant Future

In my years of life, I hope to forever persist in aspiring to learn all that I may glean from the world around me, without ever mistaking all that I have learned—even all that has been added to the knowledge bank of all of humanity—for all that there is to know, perpetually discovering bliss in both new ideas and the potential for more. At Haverford College, a liberal arts college in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia and my residence for the next four years, I will challenge my preconceived notions of life’s many mechanics, and I will grow from my constant deliberation over truth and morality, in the many realms of history; literature; peace, justice, and human rights; and art; all under the shades of world languages both inclusive yet nonexclusive to English. In my coming years, and for the rest of my life, I hope never to accept either my current perspective or my community at large as correct or concretized; instead, I hope to forever alter both, forcing my life upon the path of an asymptote approaching perfection.

26 April 2015

Che, an Evaluation

A NOVELIC MEMOIR of Ernesto Guevara’s role within the Cuban—and later, the Bolivian—Revolution, Steven Soderbergh’s Che explores, through perpetually shifting camera views, plots, and time sequences, both Guevara’s tactical leadership of his guerilla troops in his moments of success in Cuba and his utter failures in securing loyal contacts and self-guided followers in Bolivia, documenting his life from his rise to revolutionary power to his eventual fall years later.

In Che: Part 1, The Argentine, a couplet of scenettes ultimately determine Guevara’s steadfast leadership skills. In the first, the audience is exposed to glimpses of men raiding a house—only later are they revealed as revolutionaries, leading to the assumption that they act to secure supplies for their troops and that all of the above is a portion of a larger mission of which the audience will soon be aware—cutting open bags of flour and stealing nearly everything upon the house’s shelves; afterwards, they march four locals, all the prisoners yelling and in tears. In the next scene, Guevara lines the guerilla men, facing him, with the locals standing behind them, and Guevara scolds each of them for their treatment of the natives, ultimately alluding to his greater belief that inappropriate behavior—in addition to stealing food, one of the men raped a native woman in the name of a better Cuba—on behalf of his troops discredits his own movement, the revolution, and cannot be tolerated. The film shows not the scavengers ever again.

22 April 2015

Evita: A Fallen Populist Queen

As John McManners, British clergyman and religious historian, once wrote, "In all of Latin America, only one other woman has aroused an emotion, devotion and faith comparable to those awakened by the Virgin of Guadalupe. In many homes, the image of Evita is on the wall next to the Virgin" (McManners 441). Eva Perón—commonly under the appellation of Evita, its diminutive—a champion of the Argentine women's suffrage movement, a voice for the nearly disenfranchised descamisados population of her nation, and a frequent base of comparison to Bernadette Soubirous, entered the world on May 7, 1919, only to fail in her battle against cervical cancer 33 years later.

26 March 2015

Giving the Self to the World Beyond

If we elect, we may become the culmination of all that has come before us. Gleaning from the examples of previous generations, we explore expression in an attempt to precisely define our thoughts and emotions in all the complexity they deserve. We struggle to see through the clouds of our consciousness, finding hints of the faraway stars of our thought in our use of techniques passed down to us.

In William Shakespeare’s sonnets; Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos; Jack Kerouac’s Book of Haikus; and Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker’s cutting-edge exploration of the Bebop solo, each artist utilized contemporary techniques, improved by preceding generations’ lengthy experimentation, to relinquish themselves to their audience, leaving nothing behind but the space in which they used to reside. Despite the variances in each of these artists’ methods, their work allowed their souls to transcend the vessel of their lives, to become part of humanity. We, as passive onlookers in times far past their own, must only ask how they attained artistic immortality and how we may follow their lead.

Awareness and Complicity

The European colonization of Africa’s ramifications transcend far beyond that of the widespread exploitation and theft of African people, resources, and artwork. Indeed, in “annexing” nations, with a limited understanding of the tribal backgrounds of their newly occupied subjects, leaders in European governments, under a false pretense of sharing both Christianity and civilization at large, miscategorized peoples—supposedly indistinguishable to the European eye—often forming racial or socioeconomic hierarchies within numerous African societies that had never before existed. Alas, this painful imposing of unjustified and unnecessary ideologies birthed numerous harsh human rights crises, specifically genocide, amongst African peoples that had previously coexisted in relative peace. Additionally, in response to these catastrophes, many Western nations have avoided ameliorating these arduous events, evolving from denying the disaster and regretting their neglect to recognizing the predicament, yet straying from genuine attempts at reconciliation.

22 January 2015

The Grave Repercussions of Traditional and Untraditional Love

In the contemporary era of heightened social connectivity, yet widespread seclusion, we scour our lives for an interpersonal bond that would quench our thirst for emotional growth within positive relationships. However, as domestic violence rampages like a hurricane, the prospects of our dogmatic attempt at relational fulfillment, marriage, may be bleaker than we had once suspected. Rather, we may need to strive for alternative social constructs, in order to glean the benefits we had once imagined marriage to provide: emotional and physical interdependence and growth. By exploring the catastrophic repercussions of Stanley’s abuse of Stella in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, juxtaposing their tragic relationship with the emotional support and familial ambience of Tim’s platoon in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, readers may discover that the potential prosperity of marriage may often be found in alternative relationships, and likewise, it may even be absent in matrimony altogether.