A New Day and Night

November 17, 2010

Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks seems to be fitting of the mood and atmosphere of this time period. There is a sense of realism for nothing is blatantly abstract but this does not mean that there is no surreal or ethereal quality to the work. This painting uses clean lines and small details to give this setting a realistic quality. The artist is true to shadows and is very mindful of the effect the light from the diner has on its outside surroundings. Even with this precision, however, the painting also has a dream like quality that can only be explained by the grainy texture of the paint. This graininess is most likely due to the effects of the light and it serves to emphasize the artificiality of the light source. This bright light does not belong at this time of day and so it washes over everything it touches, giving most of the painting a slightly hazy feel to it. The inside of the café is set apart from the rest of the world due to the power of electricity and light making it a haven for the three customers inside. Even with this brightness, however, there is a somber quality to the painting because of the expressions of the patrons. While nightlife is usually associated with energy and liveliness, the people of this painting are nowhere near energetic. Much like the old man described in Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” these customers also seem to be deep in thought and sitting quietly as if afraid to disturb the sleeping world around them. There is great darkness outside the café and these patrons may be wary of the night they will have to face once they do decide to leave.

The circadian rhythm refers to the 24 hour cycle of biological processes that all livings things are subjected to. There is 24 hours to a full day and people were evolved to perform certain biological tasks, like eating and sleeping, according to this 24 hour cycle. According to this cycle, people would sleep when the sun went down and wake up at sunrise. This was a pretty consistent way of living for generations upon generations of people until the advent of electricity and light. Now, people were no longer tied down by the movement of the sun but instead had a constant and ready source of light whenever they needed it. Sleeping at night became an option and not a necessity. This sort of change was unprecedented and changed the very way people have been living since the birth of man. Such a grand change might have taken some getting used to and it is not surprising that people struggled with accepting this new and unnatural change. It is these feelings of uncertainty that comes from discovering something so new that is reflected upon Hopper’s painting.

The Downside of Technology in “The Great Gatsby”

November 10, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is set in the 1920s during a period where America was becoming more of an industrialized nation. As buildings start replacing trees and more people move into the cities, there is a general feeling of uneasiness with the changing world that is evident in this novel. The two villages of East and West Egg are separated by a valley where the ashes from the city are dumped. Here lies one of the most poignant images of the book, “the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg” (Chapter 2). These spectacled eyes once served as advertisement for a now failed oculist practice. This area in between the two fabulous villages of East and West Egg seems to be connected with the notion of technology and its effect on society as a whole.

The ashes, although never explicitly specified, are most likely a byproduct from the many factories that operate in New York City. This waste is so great that two men are employed simply to constantly move around the ashes into valleys and mountains. This image seems to be a painful reminder of the changing times during this era and this is all due to technology. The impact of industrialization is not simply limited to the city walls. This valley has to suffer from the waste of the factories that seems to endlessly pile up. Although the eye of Dr. Eckleburg were once a symbol of consumerism and marketing, it is now describe to look sad as they “brood on over the solemn dumping ground” (Chapter 2). Not very far away, there is another depressing scene describing people waiting for their trains as they “stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour” (Chapter 2). All these details seem to be a direct result from advancing technology and its impact on the land and people. It is not a positive quality and this negative aspect of technology is especially evident in this valley separating the two wealthy neighborhoods of East and West Egg.

Frankenstein the Inventor

October 28, 2010

When one mentions the name Frankenstein, images of Victor Frankenstein’s nameless monster and creation are brought to mind instead of the inventor himself. This is a fallacy that Victor Frankenstein would not appreciate at the least. Initially, Frankenstein began creating his monster in the name of bettering mankind for his discoveries may “lay the foundations of future success” (Chapter 4) in the fields of science and mechanics.  This naive enthusiasm that first drove him to create this monster quickly faded the minute he gave it life. In this way, Frankenstein is more of an inventor than a creator. One can argue that parents are creators for they “create” life with the knowledge that their act of conception will later lead to the birth of a new life. As creators, parents usually think and plan through and through not simply about the existence of their child but exactly what kind of person their child will be. It is this planning and foresight that Victor lacks and this is what makes him more of an inventor. Inventors do their work in order to achieve the fame and glory that can come from the advent of their novel invention.  They invent for the praise that can come from their invention but does not put much thought into the actual impact of their creation. Inventors are most concerned about the measure of change their invention may bring about for this is a caliber for the impact they have on society. Whether this change is good or bad is not of great concern to them but it is for the creator. This is where Victor ends up being more of an inventor. He cares about how revolutionary his monster may be in the science field but does little to plan exactly what this change may be. In fact, he simply thought about how much change his creation will bring upon society but did not think about what kind of change.

Steam Engine and the Luxuriousness of Travel

October 20, 2010

This picture may not depict a train running on steam power per se, but it is indicative of the impact steam technology had on society. The train seems to magically protrude out of the side of this daunting mountain allowing travel to occur in this otherwise unapproachable terrain. The bridge itself is made of the same color stone that makes up the mountain-side making it seem as if it almost a natural part of the scenery. In fact, besides the redness of the train, there is not much else that looks misplaced or out of the ordinary. This picture of the train in this romanticized location is not the usual image of train travel that one would think of when thinking about the Industrial Revolution. The grit and soot that usually is associated with trains of this time is replaced by the notion that trains are not simply a mode of transportation but a way to see views of nature one would have not been able to see before. This is because the train above is actually a commercial train from a company called “Orient Express” that allows people to take train rides that are reminiscent of the way wealthy people used to travel during the Industrial Era. With the advent of the steam engine, not only were goods able to be shipped quickly across vast areas of land but people’s horizons were expanded far past the boundaries their horses were able to take them. The whole notion of travel was altered for people were now able to travel much farther and greater distances. This luxury, however, was most widely available to the wealthy and this may be why companies like the “Orient Express” speak of Industrial Era train travel with such fondness and reverence. The website compares old world train travel as being different from our current notion of travel for it was “an age of elegance and style where ‘getting there’ wasn’t an ordeal but an integral part of the holiday”1. Whether or not it was only for the select wealthy, trains broadened people’s views of the world around them and this would not have occurred without the steam engine.

1 http://trainholidays.wordpress.com/2008/09/25/a-brief-history-of-train-travel/

Prospero and the Technology of Education in “The Tempest”

October 6, 2010

Dinah Han

Wednesday afternoon class

          Technology is often thought of as a physical tool or instrument that provides assistance to people. The piece of technology itself is usually tangible and provides visible results. In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the most obvious technological “advance” that the protagonist Prospero uses is magic. His magic takes the form of a book and he uses its teachings to control and command spirits. Although Prospero’s magic itself gives him the means to exact his revenge on Antonio, a more powerful piece of technology is responsible for Prospero’s powers and influence: education. Although not palpable and conventionally thought of as technology, education is what brings about the changes in the characters and is arguably Prospero’s and The Tempest’s greatest piece of technology.

            The Tempest begins with Prospero revealing to his daughter, Miranda, how they came to be stranded on the island. Prospero explains that he used to be a beloved duke of Milan. During his rule, however, he was too absorbed in his studies and he never noticed his brother, Antonio, plotting with the King of Naples to overthrow him. Antonio slowly removed and replaced people in the government so that everyone eventually was under his command. As Prospero is describing this, he explains that Antonio not only changed who would be part of the government but “new-created/The creatures that were mine, I say, or changed ‘em” (I.ii.81-2). In other words, Antonio used force and manipulation to transform these people. Shakespeare makes it a point to distinguish the different modes in which people can be changed. One way is with the use of force and although initially effective, its results are superficial. Even if Antonio succeeded in overthrowing Prospero, the people of Milan were unhappy under their new leader and this is shown in Gonzalo’s joy when he realizes Prospero will return once again as the reigning Duke of Milan. Another mode of bringing about change is through enlightenment. Instead of using force, Prospero uses education to bring about change in many of the play’s morally corrupt characters.

            Ever since the shipwrecked crew lands on Prospero’s island, Antonio and Sebastian immediately begin to plot to kill Alonso and take his crown as the King of Naples. They do not waste a moment’s notice and go right into plans of killing Gonzalo and Antonio. When Sebastian asks Antonio if he feels guilty for what he did to Prospero, Antonio explains he felt no remorse for he “feel not this deity in my bosom” (II.i.273-4). Seeing the unscrupulous nature of these men, Prospero decides not to simply exact out his revenge but allow them to see for themselves the error of their ways. Initially, Prospero uses magic to torture Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian. He waves the mirage of a banquet in front of their face and when they are about to eat, he makes it vanish. He convinces Alonso that his son as died as a punishment for his assistance in the usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom. It is only after taking these men to what they thought was the brink of death that Prospero enlightens them with the truth. He reveals that this was all done as a punishment for their past indiscretions and that no one was really in harm’s way, including Alonso’s son Ferdinand. It is only after thinking he lost his only son that Alonso renounces his evil ways. By the end of the play, Sebastian and Antonio are too stricken with surprise that they do not say another word. Prospero could have used magic to bewitch these men into believing they were remorseful for their wrongdoings but he instead uses magic to educate them to see the error of their ways. Unlike Antonio’s forceful tactics, Prospero uses education to convince these men to be better people. It is this power of education that sets Prospero apart from the other magical entities of The Tempest.

           Prospero’s talents as an educator does not simply end with righting past wrongs. Prospero greatly believes in the power of education and uses the knowledge provided through a book to set himself apart from the other magical beings on the island. Prospero had clear reign over Ariel and Caliban for they were nothing more than slaves to him. In fact, a running theme throughout the play is Ariel either asking for her liberty or Prospero reminding her that freedom is only a few more tasks away. Caliban is also under Prospero’s control even if he consistently complains about it until the end of the play. There is no mention in the play as to whether Prospero has stronger magical powers that Ariel or Caliban. In fact, much of the magic is not done by Prospero but is all dictated by him and executed by the two spirits he commands. What does separate Prospero from Ariel and Caliban is, however, his literacy. When Prospero decides to forgo all magic, he decided to break and bury his staff and “deeper that did ever plummet sound/I’ll drown my book” (V.i.56-7). This staff but more importantly his book is what gave Prospero his magical strength. He did not simply read off the pages of this book but spends much of his educating himself of its contents. When it is time for Prospero to prepare himself for the main event, the mirage dinner, he looks “to my book,/For yet ere suppertime must I perform/Much business appertaining” (III.i.94-6). It is his ability to read this magic book and his steadfast motivation to educate himself on its writings that allows Prospero to be a stronger magical entity than the spirits of the island.

           Throughout William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, many characters are changed and turn out to be a better person from what they were at the beginning of the play. Prospero’s goal was to not destroy those that did wrong to him but to let them see for themselves the error of their ways. In order to do this, he did use magic as an aide but his main mode of power was education. Whether it was his education in the teachings of his magic book or the knowledge of goodness he instilled in characters like Alonso and Sebastian, Prospero used the technology of education as his means to reaching his goal.

Summer Solstice by Sharon Olds – Tech reading

September 15, 2010

This poem takes place in the middle of New York City at the end of a hot day. There is a sense of doom throughout the poem for the plot is centered around the description of a man who is about to jump off a building. With such a grim subject matter, however, the poem lacks a certain sense of emotion and instead reads like a simple narrative of the sights and sounds surrounding this event. With simply descriptions, however, it is possible to feel the overbearing presence of the city and industrial life that probably pushed this man to consider committing suicide. This poem takes a personal act like suicide, which has sadly been occurring since the dawn of man, and inundates it with all the nuances of modern, industrial life. It is almost as if this poem gives suicide the technological upgrade that comes with the modern age.

The descriptive words used in the beginning of the poem revolve around the inorganic and manmade materials that are surrounding the suicidal man. From the “tarry surface” (Olds) on which he is stepping on to the steps made of iron that he had to climb to get to the roof, there is much emphasis placed on the presence of these industrial materials. These descriptions instantly made it more noticeable that this man was indeed about to commit suicide in the midst of all this steel and industry. Even at the end of this poem, when the poet compares the burning end of a cigarette to campfires, there is once again an example of how our past traditions have evolved to fit into our modern world. It is with descriptions like this that gave this man’s attempt at suicide a modern and more contemporary twist.

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