A Blog.

This is a blog.

On anxiety, its resultant hastiness, and also Persepolis.

From the beginning of the semester, this blogging assignment has consistently proven itself to be a somewhat difficult task for me. The difficulty, however, was not so much related to the technology itself– that aspect has been extremely straight-forward and user-friendly. Instead, it seems much more accurate to say that my self-imposed, possibly somewhat unreasonable set of standards are largely to blame for this constant feeling of dread. Each time I have posted something on this blog, I took a mental note of the fact that I was basically just summarizing articles we’d read, or rehashing over-simplified versions of class discussions, never writing anything that I felt especially worthy of being showcased or discussed in any depth. Looking back, however, I realize that I was only making things difficult for myself. Although I’m naturally neurotic about basically everything (and especially with writing), it’s imperative to force oneself to adapt in order to avoid being left in the dust, or at the very least to prevent overlooking important details as a result of the restrictive and crushing nature of unchecked anxiety. The more you practice, the more natural your skills become… for me, this has proven to be true about my blogging/sharing anxieties, and in this sense, I can at least say that I have truly learned something. It’s important to have a set of standards, sure, but it’s also important to be able to step back and appreciate the larger context of the situation. That probably sounds ridiculously obvious to most people, since the task of sharing information with others is so basic and essential to writing, but anxiety and doubt does have a way of snowballing if it is simply ignored.

Furthermore, in my experience, with such anxieties churning in your gut, it’s easy to become unfairly hasty with the work of others as well as your own– this demonstrates another important reason that one should make a conscious effort to reign in their neurotic tendencies if they have them. I was very quick to negatively judge the seemingly simplistic art style of Persepolis, until later taking the time to consider the legitimate rationale behind the artistic choices made by the author. Drawing both on the traditions established by ancient Persian art forms, as well as black and white avant-garde, Satrapi’s art effectively serves the story she aims to tell, while simultaneously paying homage to the cultural history of her homeland. Beyond the effectiveness and meaning behind the overall art style that she puts forth, however, there are also so many tiny, intricate details in the panels that further contribute to the author’s narrative layering. The expressions of each character, while stylistically simple, are often shockingly precise in their depiction of actual human emotion. To me, this makes Satrapi’s artwork even more impressive– the combination of both accuracy and visual simplicity does take quite a bit of skill and insight to successfully deliver.

In other words, despite my shortcomings, I greatly appreciate the new opportunities that this class has provided me. Hopefully this moment of reflection will stick…


Leservot’s Persepolis.

Considering Satrapi’s chosen title– Persepolis— it is impossible to ignore the prevailing currents of both Orient and Occident in her narrative, but what is the most suitable method of approach for such an oft-discussed, but no less complicated subject matter? In Leservot’s article, “Occidentalism: Rewriting the West in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis,” the author argues that young Marji’s marked shift to over-simplification of both the West and Iran was largely brought on as a natural reaction to the changing political landscape of her homeland. The Occidentalism represented in Persepolis, according to Leservot, is one that emerged less as a product of oppressive Western imperialism– as is often automatically assumed to be the case in critical analyses of West and East– but more so as a different construction that was new, unique and of particular use to Iranians; both as a means to combat the oppression of the Islamic regime, and also a convenient method of mental escape for members of Iran’s middle and upper class.
I think that this argument is particularly interesting because it delineates many of the underlying assumptions that commonly drive the discussion and analysis of perceptions found in both East and West. Not only is there an allowance for multiple “Occidentalisms,” or nuanced perceptions between cultures, but  a much more complex understanding of their essential shaping factors are considered in the article as well. While I cannot argue against the often devastating influence that the actions of imperialistic nations has had upon numerous cultures throughout the world, I think that Leservot’s argument quite fairly gives more credit to “dominated” cultures than a great deal of scholarship on the topic has often permitted. Rather than seeing the various fragmented elements of Western pop culture in Iran as an unwanted force of vile foreign mind control, these elements are given a new life and image that they don’t have in the West, reshaping their ultimate function into something that is uniquely Iranian.

Marjane’s direct experience with the West and her subsequent return to Iran aptly demonstrate this rift in perception. While she had some experience with decidedly Western things prior to her schooling in Austria, she still experienced a drastic sense of culture shock, largely because her experience of the West was not truly Western, but an Iranian construction. Furthermore, when she returned to Iran, she described her old female friends as looking made-up like American movie stars– a superficial and inaccurate view of the West on the part of her friends, albeit for noble, political purposes. In any case, I appreciate the author’s slightly more complex depiction of the East/West dynamic (although I sincerely apologize for not contributing any mind-blowing revelations of my own).

Persepolis and Censorship

(An overdone topic, to be sure, but I really, really need to confirm that that motionless horse is truly dead.  And so, here it goes…)

In general, the incredible volume of news stories and personal opinion that is available online about the controversy caused by Persepolis may be unsurprising due to the volatile nature that censorship tends to assume as a subject, but to me, it was the long range of dates for these news stories that was truly something of a cultural eye-opener. Although my fairly oblivious nature may ultimately be to blame for this impression, it was not so much the widespread violent reactions to the film and book that were particularly shocking (although those were certainly troubling as well, don’t get me wrong), but the highly public, multinational and long drawn-out makeup of events on the timeline of overseas public reaction. It appears that the early, untranslated versions of Satrapi’s works were first released in 2003, and yet almost a decade later, public sentiment against both the book and the movie still continue to periodically erupt.

The specific justification that is often cited in these protests found Middle Eastern countries is that Satrapi’s work depicts god as an old, bearded man, and that god should never be physically portrayed in a work of art. Although I can understand and appreciate the basic merits of this rule, as it was originally intended to prevent the folly of idolatry, it’s difficult to imagine just how drastically the message and mood of the text would have been altered with the removal of god as a character. There’s really no acceptable way to satisfy this rule and yet still preserve the message put forward by the artist. It would be unacceptable to simply ignore the important religious aspects of her childhood, because it is a focal point, critical to the development of her character. Knowing that this is the case, what other ways could god reasonably be depicted to the reader, through the eyes of a young Marji?

As readers, it can’t reasonably be assumed that we know much of  anything about the inner workings of a character’s mind, and the graphic genre gives the author the perfect opportunity to show us in more precise terms, using imagery to blur the line between a character’s physical and mental versions of reality. To young Marji, with her deeply religious nature and childlike sense of justice, god is absolutely real and present– it is therefore unsurprising that such a child’s understanding of him would be in the form of a man, rather than in more abstract notions of god that adults often develop later in their lives. What could the scene alternatively be depicted as then, a lonely child having casual conversations with herself in an empty room? How would we understand the power and realness of god to this child, if we cannot see him as she does? The removal of god as a character would effectively deprecate the value of her religion to an illusion. If the aim of a rule against depicting god is to prevent the witless damage that blind idolatry can inflict upon the inherently noble roots of faith, then the crude over-extension of such a rule is equally imprudent.

Of course, I’m sure that my opinion is heavily laden with Western bias, but it’s to be expected…

Long Blargh II: The Future of Lit Studies

The complaints and dismal prophecies of various English professors about the degeneration of the field appear to be fairly widespread, as demonstrated by the quotes and anecdotes scattered throughout James F. English’s optimistic rebuttal, The Global Future of English Studies. Much of his text supplies the reader with statistical evidence as a counterpoint to the seemingly ever-present claims of death and decline, but several of the specific claims he argues against seem decidedly misguided in other, even simpler ways, besides those opposing the statistical evidence that English presents. While I probably can’t argue much better than he does about the future of enrollments, professors, and the department as a whole, due to my lack of reliable knowledge on the subject, it is possible that I could attempt to approach the fear of content and curriculum change from a different angle.
While English could easily be accused of being overly optimistic and impractical, I wouldn’t say that he is completely wrong on all accounts. Overall, I agree with the notion that the hand-wringing and doom-saying isn’t of much service to anyone, even if I disagree with some of the ways that he strives to justify that notion. Most of concerns voiced by these doomsayers are understandably involved with issues of change and instability within the department. In spite of these pervasive fears, however, there are definite, stable elements that govern the study of literature, and as basic as they may be, it is largely these inherent qualities that will allow the field to withstand the test of time. Although I say this as someone who intends to pursue graduate studies in a different field, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t regret majoring in English as an undergraduate.
For one, it seems that many are quick to be somewhat unrealistically pessimistic about the value that literature holds in our society. As we discussed in class, our culture places a much greater value on degrees that are believed to impart “practical” or specifically job-oriented skills over degrees in the humanities, especially English. This particular cultural factor, in addition to the fear and uncertainty of trying economic times, contribute to the belief of many that the department is dying, or at the very least that it is impractical to expect the field to remain entirely unscathed. Although these are real fears to an extent, literature has substantially contributed to the development of our nation’s culture and history, and still continues to do so. Enough people are aware of this fact to ward against doomsday, and because of that, it would be more practical to discuss what changes should be made to improve the department, rather than resorting to histrionics. For authors such as English that are writing within the context of literary academia, it is no surprise that the situation would seem far more dire. With the benefit of an outsider’s perspective to this academic circle, however, I’m under the impression that many of these authors should focus their energies on more beneficial questions.
Although much of the problem of dwindling enrollments may be the common belief that an English degree does not prepare one for any practical career, the fact remains that it does impart a variety of useful skills. Close, analytical reading has helped me to develop my logic and reasoning skills, and advanced writing and communication skills are relevant not just to a wide variety of professions, but are also applicable in general, everyday life. The tangible connection of literature to almost every other field, its ability to adapt and provide new insights in an ever-changing world, and its most basic ability to reveal certain truths, will continue to attract diligent students as long as there is a written language and humans to read it. One of the major problems that English seems to face is one of public perception, and I think that the best solution to this particular problem is already in motion and steadily developing, in the form of the ways in which technology is being integrated into the more traditional classroom setting.
We have already witnessed an increasingly rapid adaptation to the current technological trends, and it is almost certain that there will be much more emphasis on technological resources in the future. However, I have noticed a similar argument perpetuated about the “usefulness” of an English degree as I have about the process of learning new technological skills. It has often been argued that English reading and writing skills, as well as the newly associated technological skills such as blogging and website design, are easily learned by people who have no formal connection to the English department at all. Although I concede that it is often easy to learn how to perform many of these skills on a basic level, primarily because most blogging sites are explicitly designed with user-friendliness in mind, and also due to the increased level of early exposure to the internet, the argument disregards the difference between knowing how to perform a task and carrying out that task at a higher proficiency than before. This applies to both traditional English reading and writing skills, as well as newer applications of the language. While it could be argued that the internet devalues the degree of an English major, due to the greater exchange of ideas and readily accessible pool of knowledge, there is an opposite side to the coin as well. With the increased exchange of language, the ability to efficiently absorb ideas and write skillfully should now be even more relevant. Having honed these skills during my years as a student, how could I have any regrets? Or at least that’s what I tell myself…

Some thoughts about Berube

When assessing the quality of the future, it is almost impossible to deny the influence of the present and the nostalgia of the past. When the past seems so golden and secure, and the present seems to be a continuous downward slide into the unknown, it is difficult to look upon the future with balance and clarity. Although I cannot speak for others, I often find it difficult to not color much of what I do and say with cynicism, and so have great respect for those who can strike a reasonable balance between extremes.
Berube, from the vantage point of an established English professor, in many ways seems highly optimistic about the future of the field, as he demonstrates through his assorted musings and anecdotes about his students… and for the most part, he seems fairly convincing. While much of the chapter details the various unfortunate aspects of the state college population, he points out that the majority of his students at the very least do “reasonably well,” and those students who are actual English majors tend to do better than that, primarily due to the rigorous nature of their field of study. This is a simple point, but I think it’s no less true. The amount of reading, analysis and discussion that is required of English majors tends to also restrict its numbers to those with the genuine interest and wherewithal to excel in their studies. At the same time, a similar claim could also be made of students of other fields, albeit with a different sort of workload. Furthermore, in other fields, particularly those not within the humanities, such an idea often goes without saying.
I think the fact that Berube even had to make such a claim about the involvement of literary studies says a great deal in itself, however. This hearkens back to our class discussion about the fact that literary academics are frequently expected to justify the value and relevance of their field to either hostile or indifferent audiences. The misconception that literary studies does not foster a useful knowledge base and skill set of its own is often tied in with the belief that it doesn’t require as much effort to pursue as other fields of study. It’s likely that this isolation and lack of understanding probably originates from a number of different sources, and in some cases, that isolation is unavoidable.
The author claims that English majors are drawn to their given field as opposed to others, at least in part, due to the structure of learning in their classes. Obviously, the classes are structured with extensive writing assignments and detailed text analysis as well as classroom discussion, as opposed to large lecture courses that often employ only exams and quizzes. While the structure of the former may be less efficient and quantifiable as a method of learning, it is also much more personal and involved, and is ultimately the only plausible way of conducting such studies. The involved reading, writing and reasoning skills that come from such a structure may not easily be as quantifiable as other forms of knowledge, and so could easily be written off, but their development is the core of the program. The constant need for justification of the field seems somewhat counterproductive, as its value seems less quantifiable within the workings of the program itself, as it is visible in the people that it produces after graduation. While it would probably be unwise to completely dismiss inquiries into the field’s relevance altogether, its very frequency as a topic of discussion seems to have an adverse psychological impact of its own.

Some prattlings about the uses of “fancy”

One of the most common criticisms that seems to be leveled against the study of English, as we have discussed at length in class, is the marked isolation of the field from other relevant fields of study– a glaring organizational flaw within the academic structure that causes a whole host of problems, including the issue that the field has suffered decreased relevance in the eyes of the public. However, many of the articles that we have been reading lately could easily be categorized, among other things, as possible attempts to bridge that ever-widening gap, and the selected excerpts from Nussbaum’s Poetic Justice are no exception. Although it may initially seem somewhat counter-intuitive to consider storytelling and imagination as not contrary to rational argument (at least for me it was), and instead as effective tools for its development, Nussbaum’s ideas certainly have their place. Her proposed application of literary imaginings to legal and economic debates is quite persuasively argued.
Along with its many positive attributes, however, the text does seem to have a few minor problems, most of which are acknowledged by the author herself. Although she presents a variety of possible objections to her argument and attempts to refute them, however, I don’t find that the answers she provides to be particularly satisfying. It is probably quite likely that this dilemma might be resolved if I had access to the entire text and the time to pore over it, but since this is not the case, and we are supposed to respond to the readings assigned, I will address the problem nonetheless.
As I said, her proposition that imagination and storytelling could be used as an effective tool with regard to legal and economic problems was persuasively argued. I, however, am also an inept, slack-jawed layman when it comes to matters of law and economics, and so feel extremely ill-equipped to pass much practical judgment as to the effective application of her ideas. On a very basic level, her notions seem simple enough to comprehend. The need for an accessible emotional and philosophical element in matters that so thoroughly impact people’s lives seems readily apparent, and I certainly agree that our society often struggles with the ability to foster and act upon true empathy for one another. However, it is difficult for me to imagine that literature could produce truly significant changes in the thought processes of public servants, let alone how useful and practical its lessons would actually be in situations of real-world policy-making and bureaucracy.
To Nussbaum’s credit, at no point did she suppose that literature and imagination should replace more traditional methods of economic and legal thought, and instead argued that they should serve as a useful supplement– in this sense, my concern is fairly minor. I am not against her ideas per se, as the possibility for the usefulness of literature as an effective supplement does exist in some context, but I would simply like to emphasize that her response to the substantial doubts of Student 1180 did not prove as persuasive as I would have hoped. Her overall connection of law, politics and economics to literary “fancy” was definitely interesting, however, despite the apparent inability of my own imagination to envision it.

Nothing new or enlightening here… I pretty much just liked that one article on that one day

It’s fairly common, and also usually pretty entertaining, for older generations to complain about the shortcomings of newer generations, and predictably, “our generation” is no exception to this rule. However, referring to “our generation” as a catch-all term for people born within the same time frame, and perhaps implicitly, the same country and socioeconomic status, has always seemed like something of an awkward concept to express, although the awkwardness remained mostly subconscious and so I never quite managed to put my finger on the reason why. Although we did not discuss it during Monday’s class, I think that Sach’s article, “Who is the Voice of This Generation?” does an excellent job of articulating the general reasons behind the general awkwardness of this term. Even though clearly the article more specifically refers to this question as it relates to the novel, it is possible that much of its commentary could be applied in much broader terms as well.
Although Sach makes the observation that there seems to be no novelist that could be considered a definitive voice of the current generation, despite the fact that the presence of such a “voice” has been the trend for many generations prior to it, I appreciate that instead of immediately jumping to a negative conclusion, she seems to approach her interviews and word her observations with an attempt at impartiality. While I concede that it’s probably true to say that the overall influence of novels (disregarding kitsch) on popular culture in this country may be greatly diminishing, it’s sometimes refreshing to hear from a perspective that isn’t exclusively pessimistic, even if at times it begins to border on rosy or unrealistic. Her essential observation that the norms regarding the novel, and ultimately the relevance of the “generational voice,” are shifting in a new direction seems to be valid, although the reasons why this is the case are probably a lot more complicated than a short article in Time could reasonably cover. Even still, the topic is interesting to consider.
In any case, it is important to note that a large portion of the idea that a generation could even have its own voice at all is ultimately tied up in the sense of a single, collective identity that the majority of a generation’s members could easily point to. As Sachs discusses in her article, however, it is probable that this notion of a collective generational identity is somewhat diminished from its status within the generations of previous decades. Preceding this one, there has been something of a tradition for naming each successive generation, such as the “baby boomers” or “Generation X.” For this generation, however, I have heard it sardonically referred to on several occasions as “Generation Who Cares?”
Although this title was initially meant as an insult (at least in terms of the context that I was exposed to), for those hangers-on who absolutely insist upon having a special name or title for everything, this term might actually be acceptable, if only in a different sense. Rather than an expression of ignorance and apathy, it could also be seen as a personification of the inherent difficulty and possible frustration with determining a unified generational voice.  …That was a joke. I’m sorry.
In all seriousness, however, I agree that it may be at least an acceptable fact, if not a positive one, to see the end of both the “voice” and generation-naming, if they have truly ceased. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a shift of focus, especially if it reveals new aspects of truth that may have otherwise been stifled.

Pamuk and Politics

Professor Tange mentioned that Orhan Pamuk had publicly resolved to never write a political novel. Does My Name Is Red fall into this category, despite Orhan Pamuk’s best intentions? I think that the immediate answer would probably be yes, although the specific reasons why are proving a bit more complicated to articulate than that. Overall, due to the inevitable blurring that occurs between the general topics of culture, history and politics, as well as the author’s own real-life involvement in the politics of his city and country, it may have ultimately been impossible in the first place for Pamuk to write
a novel that others would not talk about at least partially in terms of political ideas.
Specifically to this novel, however (although most likely to other Pamuk novels as well that we haven’t read yet), are the politics present in the overarching tension between east vs. west. Due to the rich heritage and extended history of Istanbul as a gateway city that somehow manages to juggle cultural elements of both east and west, although the seemingly distant time period is important in order to understand the immediate setting, characters and the general plot, it was somewhat secondary to ultimately grasping its relevance as a political piece today. When the murderer stated both that he often felt, while walking through the streets of Istanbul, that he lived “in the present as if it were the past” and that the remarkable events of the story “occurred at once in the present and in the past,” he may have articulated that the notion of time as a concrete forward progression is somewhat flawed, and subsequently revealed that problems and debates of the modern day, while they may seem distinctly topical, are in fact inexorably linked to the same troubles of our distant ancestors.
The intense struggle between fanatical religious elements, the threat of Western influence, and the adamant desire of old masters to preserve cultural traditions, eventually resulted in the marked deterioration of the art, ultimately had a political tone, although perhaps not definitively siding with one faction over another. Ultimately, the entire novel is spent by relating almost every idea, image and event to the work of miniaturists and describing page after page of the ancient art in excruciating detail, only for it to culminate in its unceremonious yet quiet extinction. None of the competing elements decisively won, and were instead depicted as almost unwittingly working together to usher in the end of a celebrated cultural tradition.
However, the tone of fatalism throughout the piece is strong. As I have mentioned in a previous post, although Master Osman and Enishte Effendi represent directly opposing sides of the debate about the art, in their own ways, both seem to acknowledge what will eventually come to pass by the end of the novel. On one hand, this shared resignation could demonstrate the folly of their stubbornness, but it may also illustrate the lack of true individual power that one has in such intensely complicated cultural conflicts.
While My Name Is Red may not be political in the traditional sense of the word, in that it doesn’t definitively advocate a single concrete platform or set of ideals, it certainly is political in that it articulates the elements of discussion that these competing ideals are involved with, and forces reflection on those ideals. I suppose the way that one answers this question would depend on their personal definition of a “political text,” so clearly there is ample room for disagreement with my conclusion. Anyone else?

East vs. west

During Wednesday’s class, when we discussed the multiple ways in which the idea of perspective is dealt with throughout Pamuk’s novel, although we spoke about it so extensively that it took up the entire class period, it was still impossible to completely cover every aspect of such a broad theme, particularly in so dense a text. What interested me the most about the conversation, however, was the consistent theme of east vs. west throughout the narrative, and the fact that so many of the other notable themes could, at least to some extent, be drawn under that larger umbrella.
The prevailing fear that the traditional art style of the great masters would be unavoidably rendered obsolete, whether or not the miniaturists conformed to the potentially sacrilegious style of the Franks, was most poignant because so many parallels can be drawn across cultures, throughout history. On one hand, as is disclosed by Enishte Effendi, the traditional style of the miniaturists as they knew it was itself shaped, implicitly for the better, often by external influences via the incorporation of some style originally pioneered by the Chinese masters, and even more extensively the ability to create a suitable red paint for their compositions. With these examples, he was able to argue that foreign traditions can not only be easily absorbed as part of a new tradition, it is necessary for the further progress and development of higher national culture. However, to many other characters, the fear of false idol worship and also the potential weakening of their own unique artistry and culture was understandably a source of constant conflict. With the benefit of hindsight, the appropriate balance between either nurturing tradition or admitting foreign practices can often be easily measured, but in spite of its status as an oft-recurring theme throughout history, each time it occurs, it is often treated as the thoroughly divisive, heart-wrenching matter that it is.
During the final portion of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th century, both Japan and China were forced to consider the adoption of Western influence on multiple occasions. As the Qing dynasty failed to fully modernize its own army, Japan had already done much to modernize theirs, and China’s resulting loss of Korea ultimately caused the dramatic shift of the region’s dominance to Japan. Furthermore, the nation’s crushing defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War at the turn of the century, made possible largely by the skillful application and development of new technologies, shocked the West and brought the eastern nation onto the world stage. This victory over a prominent Western power was a far cry from earlier contact with Western powers, when Commodore Perry essentially forced the country to abandon its policy of cultural isolation. The Japanese had learned from this unfortunate and humiliating incursion, and vowed to modernize. It had to sacrifice many of its old traditions for the overall preservation of its people, and this must have been an extremely difficult decision to make– though perhaps less so when staring down the barrel of a gun.
One power adapted multiple Western elements, while other did so to a much, much lesser degree. However, it’s difficult to draw truly definite conclusions about which ideal is right and wrong, on account of the strong notions of sacrifice and defeat that are so thoroughly wrapped up in the enduring struggle between tradition and cultural change. Although Enishte Effendi and Master Osman each deal with the inevitable obsolescence of their art in markedly different ways– the former with forced change and the latter with tired yet stubborn resignation– they both reach the similar conclusion that for better or worse, change will descend upon the art, and on a larger scale their culture. The emotions and decisions involved with confronting these changes are interesting to explore, but even with the aid of history, definitive answers are difficult to come by…

Long Post: Misinformation and the Written Word.

In many English classes, most notably in high school, the fear of misinterpretation seems to be fairly prevalent among students. It’s often reinforced that there is one “correct” answer, and any other possible interpretations of the material are either irrelevant or simply wrong. Although this doesn’t seem to be as common in college level literature courses, this was certainly the case in my personal experience of high school English. Interestingly enough, however, it is often the misinterpretation or misremembering of literature that naturally helps to form so many aspects of our culture without our even fully realizing it.

In Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, one of the early chapters speaks entirely from the perspective of a dog narrator (or more accurately, an Ottoman storyteller’s illustration of a dog). Although the overall tone of the narrative is rather tongue-in-cheek, it still calls into question a widespread interpretation of a certain passage in the Koran that had strongly shaped popular opinion during that time period. According to Pamuk’s cheeky canine narrator, clerics and other religious men in 1500’s Istanbul despised dogs and saw them as little more than filthy mongrels, although they greatly admired cats. Apparently, the reason for their seemingly irrational levels of disgust originally stemmed from one anecdote featuring the Prophet Muhammad, who reportedly preferred to cut off a section of his own robe rather than to wake the sleeping cat who had curled up beside him. As the story goes, somehow, through many years of telling and retelling, reading and misreading, this cast a dark shadow upon all dogs, who weren’t mentioned in the story at all, let alone condemned by it. It has been noted that perhaps this animosity stemmed from the traditional rivalry between cats and dogs, although no one can say for sure. Regardless, according to Pamuk’s narrator, in the 1500’s Ottoman Empire, people vigorously cleaned their houses from top to bottom if a dog managed to enter on accident, and even threw out or re-tinned pots that had been soiled by the tongue of a mongrel. Perhaps one could argue that this particular example is irrelevant to the culture of the modernized West, but I would say that one basic principle still connects this seemingly harmless anecdote to multiple elements of our own society in America.

Even among highly educated people, it is clearly impossible to know everything, and as a result of this basic certainty, we are each forced to rely upon our faulty human brains to store tiny snippets of jumbled information. Because each person can only specialize in a certain number of subjects, he or she is forced to maintain only small pockets of information about all the other unrelated subjects, if at all. Furthermore, for those who aren’t particularly well-versed on a subject, the little amount of information that they do have access to does have a general tendency to get even more jumbled with the gradual passage of time, as well as exposure to new, potentially incorrect information. To complicate matters even further, it’s often difficult to remember where one initially learned something, which can be extremely problematic. If one cannot trace the original source of a fact or quote, and even further can only vaguely paraphrase the information, it is even more easily corruptible during the jump from person to person.

These unavoidable facts of life lay down the basic foundation for the eventual spread of misinformation, but idle conversation is what ultimately makes the act of misremembering such an essential aspect in the development of various languages and  cultures throughout the world. Present at the dinner tables of average families and inherent in the casual language exchanged among friends and co-workers is this cultural confusion, which takes snippets of truth and spins it into a new and unrecognizable form. To say this twisting of the truth is positive or negative, however, is neither here nor there. As long as language lives, so too will its unintended side-effects that shape the direction of superstitions and shared beliefs.

Ultimately what I am getting at is this: although it is obviously the job of a literary academic to be well-versed in the many relevant works of their particular field, in many ways it is also important to be aware of the steady cycle of misremembering and misinterpreting that is perpetuated by most average laymen, for it is often this cycle of misinformation that most shapes our broader culture. This is not to say that complex academic ideas are irrelevant, or that we should all simply yield to ignorance merely because it represents the mindset of a broader demographic. On the contrary, the awareness of these seemingly arbitrary patterns and their origins could and should be a useful supplement to more traditional forms of knowledge within the field of literature. Tracing the threads of popular knowledge through history and written language can illuminate much about our culture, as well as the underlying reasons behind the preconceptions of others, and the inherent prejudices within us all.