[Work: Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, 1963]
Laughing at the Worst:

The Equal-parts-comedic-and-nihilistic Critique of Inhumane Research in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle

 

Kurt Vonnegut Sketch by M.R.P. - Cat's Cradle - arms race satire

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is a member of a class of novels which could arguably not have surfaced without the Cold War as their context. It is brimming with paranoia, and it manages to frame the greatest of tragedies as the subtlest and most inevitable of truths. I’m not entirely sure what to call work like this: perhaps something like ‘bureaucratic sci-fi.’ But whatever you call it, what it provides is a stinging criticism of a society that knowingly teeters on the brink of destruction, and which does so with a smile. Where there is something to smile about, reasons Vonnegut, there is something to laugh about. Cat’s Cradle, despite having one of the bleakest and most nihilistic plots of any of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, manages to be one of his most hopeful, charming, and humorous works.

Cat’s Cradle holds nothing sacred, and—like much of Vonnegut’s work—its message may be summed up succinctly by a sigh that comes through a grin. It takes to task humans that are indifferent to human suffering; technological advancements that are made without humanistic aims; and spiritual as well as governmental institutions which fail to provide happiness to their participants. It is pithy, clever, and confusing, and it just might be my favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel.

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[Work: Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, 1963]
Laughing at the Worst:

The Equal-parts-comedic-and-nihilistic Critique of Inhumane Research in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle

was last modified: December 23rd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1938]
Meeting Angst and Despair:

A Brief Introduction to the Symbols and Revelations to be Found in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

 

Introduction:

Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre - philosophy, symbolism, literatureThe book that I would like to analytically introduce and recommend today is one that is most assuredly not for everyone. And I don’t mean that it’s not for everyone because its content is shocking, like American Psycho, nor because its content is controversial, like Lolita, nor because its content is difficult, like Gravity’s Rainbow.

No, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea is not for everyone because it’s entirely possible to read the book cover-to-cover without noticing what the book is doing; and if you do exactly that, then you are likely to find the book rather boring. In fact, Nausea is at its best and most likeable when its unassuming content becomes for you shocking, controversial, and difficult. So I’m now going to try my best to prevent you from having that first experience, so that you can enjoy this amazing work of literature.

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[Work: Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1938]
Meeting Angst and Despair:

A Brief Introduction to the Symbols and Revelations to be Found in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

was last modified: December 21st, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010]
Creative Journalism:

American Race Politics, Perspective, and Shifting Culture in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover - Rebecca Skloot - racism, biography, medical science, segregation

Introduction:

An incident in literary history that I have previously covered for this series was when, about 40 years ago, an essay by Chinua Achebe was published that changed the way literary scholars talked about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In the essay, Achebe leveled claims of blatant, overarching, and thorough racism in Conrad’s time-tested classic about imperialism in Africa.

The ensuing devaluation of Conrad’s novella was not permanent, however, and Heart of Darkness is once again at the forefront of most higher-level high-school and lower-division university curricula. But the conversations about it have changed, and now its racism is discussed alongside the complexity of its visual imagery. Indeed, in high schools across America Heart of Darkness is taught in the same classrooms as Achebe’s own novel, Things Fall Apart, with its African perspective on imperialism.

The recent popular success of Rebecca Skloot’s work of creative nonfiction, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, may be seen as a further incident in the progressive recontextualization of historical objects and ideas; in Skloot’s case, the historical object is one of immense scientific importance: the HeLa cell. Just like Conrad’s novella, the importance of the HeLa cell is obviously not diminished by the exploitation in its history, but that exploitation has become an integral part of telling that history.

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[Work: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010]
Creative Journalism:

American Race Politics, Perspective, and Shifting Culture in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

was last modified: December 23rd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, c. late 1300s]
Puppetry and the “Popet:”

Fiction, Reality, and Empathy in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

 

Introduction:

Two weeks ago the topic of your Tuesday Tome was a piece of later medieval writing under the title of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I argued that aspects of Sir Gawain‘s structure (and treatment of character placement) serve as a window into the complex and proto-modern gender relations of the medieval period, and so people ought not, as seems rather common to me, be so quick to dismiss that period as some kind of primitive dark era of history.

Prior to that, I have also written on the insight into cyclical violence between factions that can be gained by reading Beowulf. Today I would like to continue this trend of showcasing the vitally relevant and fascinating discussions and lessons that can be gleaned from works of medieval literature by taking a look at what just one segment of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury TalesThe Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer reveals about Chaucer’s larger project of subjectification[1] across disparate social strata.

Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake - The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake

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[Work: The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, c. late 1300s]
Puppetry and the “Popet:”

Fiction, Reality, and Empathy in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

was last modified: April 28th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, (Pearl Poet), c. late 1300s]
The Green Knight’s Wife:

Space and Gender Relations in the Chivalric Romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

 

Introduction:

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Illustration - Medieval, feminism, space, powerThe Tuesday Tome series has housed some light recommendations as well as some in-depth readings of classics; this article is one of the latter, and the work in question is very classic indeed: the late-medieval verse work Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. One of my many literary interests is how one can gain insight into an often-misunderstood and often-stereotyped era or group through literature, and there are few eras about which there are more misconceptions and simplifications than the middle ages.

In the study of literature, over the past hundred and fifty years or so, there has been growing emphasis on the significance of setting, and particularly on the relationship between space, whether natural, urban, or interior, and the thematic elements with which such study has always been primarily concerned.

There are now myriad papers on the cities in Dickens, the jungles in Conrad and Wells, and the rooms in the works of the Brontës. Such emphases yield valuable insights which should not be restricted to the past couple of centuries of literature. In the late-medieval chivalric text Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, space can be seen, as in the latter case of the Brontës, commenting on the nature of femininity and the human relationships between men and women which take place in that space.

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[Work: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, (Pearl Poet), c. late 1300s]
The Green Knight’s Wife:

Space and Gender Relations in the Chivalric Romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

was last modified: December 29th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski