The overwhelming loss and destruction of World War I, all to no real purpose, produced widespread personal and cultural trauma. A devastation that began
as political, went on to ravage as well all that was understood as the personal and the social. It was as if Europe, not unlike Dorian Gray, tired of pursuing
hollow sensation and extracting meaningless wealth from its far-flung Empires, stabbed the painting of all its inhuman deeds– and destroyed its “self” in the
process. To quote the (unheard) Septimus Warren Smith, “human nature” was “the brute with the red nostrils”—personified in the deceptively civilized Sir
William Bradshaw, who imposed proportion and conversion in a mechanical, indifferent way.
World War I, literally and figuratively, exploded all the tenuous myths of modernity, which had been generating an illusion of a continuing “sacred” ritual within
what were, in fact, the increasingly addictive cycles of modern capitalism. The unanticipated, unexpected, explosive and ferocious arrival of the “rough beast”
of World War One was a catastrophe costing the death—when the casualties of all Nations are put together– of twenty million men. In the aftermath of the
disaster, a naive attempt was made, especially by those in positions of power, to declare the disaster “over” in order to “go back to the way everything was
before”. Poems like “The Waste Land”(1922) , however, along with novels such as Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and, later, Good Morning, Midnight (1939), showcase
an increasingly fragmented world of social alienation, one that moves us from “the age of anxiety” , focussed on how to restore meaning, to “the age of
depression” where “meaning” itself begins to appear, as it does to Clarissa Dalloway, just the ultimate construction that generates a superficial appearance of
coherency and significance.
All of our literature since the midterm, in one way or another, through both content and form, illustrates the effects of cultural and personal trauma. We
discussed trauma, at length, and identified three aspects: 1. Loss of control 2. Loss of communication 3. Loss of meaning. We also noted how the various
“myths of modernity” (PEPSI) obscured trauma and personal suffering, and, instead, made it seem that happiness is available to everyone–but only if they
consume properly, and keep “a sense of proportion”. In fact, recovery from trauma requires feeling seen, feeling heard, and feeling accepted for who we are
(love) rather than having someone “stamp” their own imprint upon us so we appear as they need us to appear (conversion), especially since this “conversion”
is done by “the worst” (recall: “the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity”, Yeats, “The Second Coming”). The “worst” are
made so because their “soul-destroying” treatment of others allows them to remain ignorant about their own shortcomings (what Dorian Gray does to Sibyl
Vane; What Kurtz does to the Congo; what Bradshaw does to Septimus; what Mr. Blank does to Sasha, what the factory/capitalism [tries to] do to the tramp).
Our task, then, as readers/viewers, becomes:
-How to discover a way to renew, to regenerate, and to restore a new sense of value that nurtures us, rather than a price that depletes us.
-How do we distinguish the sustainable (roots that clutch) from the merely satisfying (stony rubbish)?
-How do we remind ourselves to engage in the necessary pain of meaningful rituals, rather than pursuing the endless deferrals of addiction, so readily
supplied and promoted by the consumption-stimulating myths of modernity (advertising).
– How do we communicate (Septimus: “Communication is health”)the resulting culture of perpetual distraction, and continual discontent, that this stimulation
Discuss how each of the four quotes below (note: treat the still from Modern Times as one of the four “quotes”) does one or more of the following: .
–illustrates this crisis,
–exposes the rhizomatic underlay of desire and commodity culture that underlies it
–details why it is seductive and decentering (we volunteer ourselves to be subject to many of its negative effects)
–warns us that, unchecked, it can only get worse and worse,
–while, at the same time, offers ways to contend with it– ways that grant us the insight that is a prelude to meaningful change.
Remember, your challenge is to show BOTH what the quotes have in common, AND how they suggest different variations on how to survive the political,
social and cultural disasters outlined in the first part of this prompt. Some quotes may be more concerned with
-some with warning us of WORSE YET TO COME,
-others offering ways to contend with i