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Wednesday
Oct302013

The Killjoy Critic's Weapon

      This "very 'umble" (as Uriah Heap would phrase it) piece of satire was read at a meeting of the Killjoys (a literary discussion group) in a dilapidated, crumbling backhockey of a 1950's Cape Cod style house in Manhattan, Kansas last Friday. Though the current reader (you) will not be able to capture the aura surrounding its reading (the haze of pipe smoke, the taste of fermented barley and the imminent possibility of the roof caving in) I hope he or she (you) will at least enjoy the written words. So without further ado . . .

      While we killjoy critics are against physical weapons of any kind—especially wooden or plastic weapons for children, which might lead little boys to imagine they are slaying dragons and saving socially constructed and dangerously gendered princesses in pink tulle . . . You will notice I have digressed, as is proper, for Killjoy critics also approve heartily of academic digressions which lead to new discoveries of thought and keep the writer from that format more menacing than a thousand, bloody-handed, ravenous capitalists at a rally for pollution: the five paragraph essay.

            To return to what was posited at the outset of this paper, we killjoy critics are against physical weapons of any kind, but our arsenals are full of metaphorical weapons when approaching a text. One of these weapons is our ability to, once we have stated an idea about a text, repeat it at least twenty different ways using as many synonyms and obscure words as possible so as to make the audience think we are making tens of points, while, in reality, we are only making one. In other words, we present superfluous phrases to explain single concepts to our readers utilizing alternative phrases to give the appearance of nuanced meaning. What I mean by this is, we find other ways to state the same concept under the auspices of separate words and word pictures. To put it another way, we use diverse symbols, metaphors and cultural commentary under the aegis of one theory so as to skew the perception of the readers. Another way of looking at this is to think of a thesis as a fractal, made up by thousands of other mini-theses—namely words and phrases—that resemble the original thesis. It is best to state as many of these as is possible. Maybe an example would make my point seem stronger: Karl Marx famously said, “Workers of the world unite!” though we Killjoy critics esteem Mr. Marx highly for his ability to suck every drop of joy from any text on which he places his full, German lips, it would have behooved him to have found twelve to fifteen other phrases that meant the same thing as “workers of the world unite!” For instance, “Laborers of the planet, come together!” “Drudges of the globe, coalesce!” “Those who toil in this diurnal course, fuse yourselves!” “Proletariat of the blue planet, meld!” “Toilers on terra firma, merge!” “Those whose noses are to the grindstone, combine!” “Hired hands of earth, unionize!” His call for action would have stayed the same, but his audience would have been awed by his ability to repeat the same phrase in so many diverse ways. To put it simply, he could have used sundry phrases to supplement his singular thought. He might have told his readers what seven or eight critics said; if they happened to have said the exact same thing as he said, all the better. Over-citing critics is a sure way to let your audience know you are taking the text before you very seriously and will not let any joy seep through the hermetically sealed door you have forged from numerous examples.

          In short, killjoy critics can assure themselves that the reader who used to find joy in a text now rues the day they laid eyes on that series of socially constructed words by employing seven strategies: repetition, reiteration, restatement, review, reminder, recapitulation and regurgitation. Another way of seeing this is this is to picture yourself in a room of mirrors. How many of you are there? Are any of your reflections different than the others? The answer to at least one of those rhetorical questions is, “no.” Write like that. In other words, put down words on paper following the example of the mirrors. As critic Mary S. Wagoner puts it, “Tristram” (never mind who he is, just imagine he stands for all authors everywhere in every time period) “Tristram repeatedly replies to the reader.” This is wise. It is prudent and smart. It is good advice. Make it your motto. Incorporate it as your life’s most meaningful phrase. By doing so, you will be a better killjoy critic, or, to say it slightly differently, you will be successful in academia.

R. Eric Tippin
In a basement office on the campus of Kansas State University
October 23, 2013

Image:
Portrait of an Unknown Artist
Oil on Canvas - 1897
Elizabeth Hean Alexander 

Thursday
Oct102013

In Defense of Beauty

O how can beautie maister the most strong,
And simple truth subdue avenging wrong?

Recently, I have been reading the first book of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene in which Spenser tells the story of the brave Redcrosse Knight who undergoes a falling away from faithfulness to his lady Una only to be redeemed at the end. His fault led ultimately to the perilous battle between Truth and the deceit of sight. Beauty and Truth are one in the same, yet our world so falsely portrays Beauty that it often can become confused with Truth: we tell ourselves that the beautiful in appearance must be Truth, and in the confusion we end up deceived.

As I read the book this time through, I decided to note the many times Spenser uses sight in reference to deception. What is beautiful is often a deception, and the Redcrosse Knight's biggest mistake in the poem is his leaving Una for the deceptive Duessa. Upon seeing Archimago's disguised couple, the Redcrosse knight deserts his lady, forgetting to trust in her as a faithful companion. This leads to his abandoning her and joining with the evil Duessa who is beautiful on the outside yet horribly ugly when uncovered. The Knight's mere lust of the eyes leads him down a path in which he is taken captive by Duessa's giant Orgoglio and nearly dies. It all leads to what I believe is a climax of this theme concerning deception: his battle with Despair.

This scene in the story demonstrates how blindly following after the beauty of mere appearance can lead to a desensitizing of Truth and true Beauty. While the reader can somewhat sympathize with Redcrosse as he is deceived by Archimago's disguise and Duessa's physical beauty, he cannot accept the scene with Despair which culminates in Redcrosse longing after death and damnation.

He shew'd him painted in a table plaine / The damned ghost, that doe in torment waile, / And thousand feendes that doe them endlesse paine / With fire and brimstone, which forever shall remain. / The sight whereof so throughly him dismaid, / That nought but death before his eyes he saw.

With this Redcrosse begins to give in to despair. No longer is he deceived by disguises and fake beauties, but his wayward ways have lead to a misunderstanding of what is desirable in this world, what Beauty and Truth actually are, and the ugly has become beautiful. Just as Abraham was about to end dear Isaac's life, so Redcrosse raises the dagger to end his, only to be saved by his better half, fair Una: Fair Una who never allows herself to give into the lusts of the eyes.

The tale of Redcrosse's failing is a testament to the modern. Our desires today are in the wrong place. We are far too easily pleased with mere outward appearances, unwilling to see the unseen Truth. I find it interesting in this first book that Redcrosse deals as would any good knight with the obvious evils he encounters (Sansjoy, Sansfoy, the beast Error, etc.). But when it comes to deception, he nearly fails completely, and it is only because of his hero Una that he has any hope at all. The lesson is one the Christian should take to heart: What looks good in this world can easily be a trap by the Angel of Light to lead us down a destructive path which ends in our longing for sin. Thus, the Christian should seek for Truth above all, for seeking after Truth will result in an accurate evaluation of what is truly beautiful. When Redcrosse finds the light of Truth, he is finally able to see straight, for he was "taught celestiall discipline," which "opened his dull eyes, that light mote in them shine." A world colored with Truth is a world that despises what ought to be despised and loves what ought to be loved: "That flowre of faith and beautie excellent."

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.wordpress.com)
Bluestem Bistro
Manhattan, KS
October 8, 2013

Painting:
“Children and Fairies”
William Shackleton, 1924

Saturday
Sep282013

On Position Papers

 I must admit that whenever I come to write another little-what-not on this collaborative site, a fear, or rather a concern, seems to rise before me as a specter at the gate of the very outset. For, as it has been wisely put "there is nothing new under the sun," my worry consists of the fact that the point I am about to make was probably already made this week, in a much more cogent fashion, on some other blog. If not lately, a bloke fifty years ago pointed it out in a well circulated pamphlet or book. It gets worse. The fact is and odds are, most of the current readers of this passage have probably read those other self-same things and are wondering under what kind of dusty slab I make my rounds. 

However, now that I have let you in on my secret troubles, I will let you in on the magic of the very same assumptions. For, if another fellow, probably an unmitigated sapp like myself, has already come to this conclusion, mine is a mere seconding and both of our points become much more sure. For it is a trustworthy saying that the most basic conclusions of the simplest minds make for the surest footing, where as, the most profound decree of the brilliant intellect is the slippery slope. Theories of the PHD's will pass us by on the desert track while the simpleton will stop to give us a drink of water.

Now that the realization is starting to dawn on you that even the knowledge that I am being repetitious won't stop me from proceding, I perfectly understand if I will be going it alone.

 

Thesis: Funny thing about position papers, they seem to assume a different underlying position for each situation.

 

I made it to this point in my thought processes before I realized I don't agree with this thought/thesis, so there is really no point in going on. However, there is one loose end. It is, as you may recall, that another bloke probably made this point somewhere else quite recently. I guess what you do with him and his point is now up to you. Maybe you can second him. It is a competition in the end, and maybe by siding with him you may be on the winning side and I will be left to regroup and look at rebuilding for next season.

 

N.B. Seeing as how I don't agree with my above thesis, position papers may soon follow.

 

Phillip Tippin
The cool rains having started
Roeland Park, KS

Painting:
Catherine Wood
"Books and Papers on a Desk"
Unknown Date 

Thursday
Sep122013

Killjoy Criticism

    Kiljoy Criticism—criticism for the Ironic Age.  

    There are too many happy children. I'm talking about those giddy school boys you see on benches reading senseless books and laughing at the pictures. Or their female comrades reading fairy tales and getting all caught up in the story. These happy children must be stopped. The giddy boys get these foolhardy ideas that they must be chivalrous and, well boys, while the girls believe themselves to be helpless princesses locked in tall towers guarded by dragons . This joy must be quenched at the source, we must, as best we can, suck the fun out of our reading: have Prince Charming hanged on the nearest tree and tell Sleeping Beauty to keep hitting the snooze button. For the book is a very serious issue and reading is the highest form of art. I argue, in these here brief words, that the end of our reading should be a sort of depressed seriousness. This should be the end goal, and we should seek, as best we possibly can, to find ways which encourage this depressing seriousness. I grant the current deluge of literary theories out there, but not a single one of them advocates that we read in order to be depressed. Killjoy Criticism is the highest theory. It asks the question, "How can I approach this text in such a way that will make me as depressed as possible?" Killjoy Criticism is the theory that will lead us back to ourselves. We must read to be depressed.

     We should come to books as we do a funeral. And as with any funeral, we have the characters, but naturally we sit and ponder our own end. Thus, we should enter those pages with a grave seriousness that is solely focused on ourselves. This seriousness will completely transform our reading experience. Every character will come alive, and every symbolism will point back to you, the reader, for who is more important in this life than you? And an important person is a serious person. Therefore, the primary thing that must be done when we enter these tomes is to look for ourselves as much as possible, ignoring at all costs the historical or biographical context that may add to the text. Evidence is on our side here as well. For it does not take long to find that the most selfish and narcissistic person in the room is usually the most depressed. Just look at all those egoists on Facebook, and you will see how taking ourselves seriously leads to a fantastic depression, something our reading desperately lacks. Fitting ourselves into the narrow cracks of the narrative we're reading is the primary step needed if we are to come out depressed on the other side.

     Over-analysis is key for the Killjoy Critic. If you wonder if something's meaning is a stretch, that is all the more reason for the validity of your reasoning. Huck Finn should not just represent you the reader (though this is primary), he should represent Othello, Samuel Johnson, Henry Ford and Hans Zimmer. Frankenstein's Monster is a clear illusion to an obscure body part, and Shylock represents the repressed females of the 20th century. Words too should be stretched beyond comprehension. For words are merely a social construction; they don't actually mean any one thing. The more meanings and symbolisms you can pack into the most constrained word the better: "Strain the gnat but swallow the camel." You should come out of your first reading of Moby Dick with at least 20 different readings readily available. For in the end all this relativity is depressingly serious. It is a serious statement that says anything can mean anything  and everything means nothing. And when we've reached the end of the nihilistic river we've created, we'll be freely depressed in a world of obscurity and meaninglessness just as Jim was freed at the end of his journey with Huck.

   This brings me to story. Killjoy Critics believe story is the last thing any reader should be focused on. Getting caught up in a story only produces excitement, adventure, and ultimately joy. This is a huge detriment to reading books. Books are merely here for social and cultural advancement. Serious stuff. Not kid story-time. Who ever approached a fairy tale with true seriousness? The last thing a good, serious reader should get out of the Grapes of Wrath is that the Joad's traveled from Oklahoma to California. Oklahoma to California? Try Irkutsk to St. Petersburg. The Joad's didn't start in Oklahoma, they began as the bourgeois elite and traveled to a proletariat prison. Story's produce joy, multiple meanings creates chaos, pain and depression like the married couple that can't seem to interpret each other correctly. Thus, we should seek for the "hidden meaning" behind the story and ignore the joy of the narrative altogether. The reader will be depressingly serious, knowing that St. George didn't just slay the dragon but was actually fighting the slave trade, aids, and endangered Moon Bears.

    But the Killjoy reader, apart from being solely devoted to himself, is also conscious of the social issues around him. Remember. We come to literature to be depressingly serious. Nothing on the planet, apart from yourself, is more serious than social advancement. This social advancement is discovered in three major categories of culture each of which leave you depressed: 1) social oppression, 2) economical oppression , and 3) the oppression of the ecosystem and animals. Now, we should tackle one at a time.

   This first one coincides with the oppression of a sexual revolution. Everything in literature must correspond with this ideal if we are to be aptly depressed on the other side. The pervert is usually a depressed person because he takes his perversion too seriously, and likewise the perverted reader is depressingly serious. So when you're reading Pride and Prejudice, you should only consider how Elizabeth Bennet's sexuality is being severely repressed by Mr. Darcy. The last thing Pride and Prejudice is is a tale of two blockheads who found love. This is too humorous and humor, above all, must be annihilated. But when Elizabeth states in the novel that "Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing at all," she is clearing pioneering the current third-wave feminist cause.

   In Chaucer's Miller's Tale, the Miller is telling a story about how the proletariat of the post-Civil War era struggled to find their identity. John specifically represents the proletariat who simply couldn't find their way, and his being cuckolded by Nicholas (bourgeois) with his young wife Alisoun (capitalism) while the parish clerk Absolon (corporate greed) seeks to get a piece of Alisoun (capitalism). But keep in mind our earlier principle. John does not just represent the lost class of people after the Civil War. He's also an oddly specific reference to George Bush's last four years in office. Chaucer knew it all. Nevertheless, when Chaucer says "She was a fair young wife, her body slender as any weasel's, and as soft and tender" (Coghill's trans.), he's actually directly quoting Marx signifying that Capitalism (Alisoun), though beautiful in outward appearance, was actually nothing but an emaciated weasel, willing and able to deceive the proletariat. If the economy does not leave you depressed, nothing will, and so economics should certainly find their way into your reading.

    Finally, we have the oppression of our beloved planet. The Killjoy Critic firmly believes that one of the most depressing things to think about is the planet's apparent dissolving on its own accord. There is no more clear indication of this than in the Pickwick Papers. When the four travelers are setting out for Dingley Dell, a clear instance shows itself in their inability to control the horses. Winkle, nominated to ride solo, is unable to control his beast and eventually the horses in the cart take off from the other travelers. All this clearly indicates nature's revolt against man. And Mr Pickwick's frustration at not being able to get rid of the horse indicates man's general misunderstanding of Mother Nature.

It's like a dream... a hideous dream. The idea of a man's walking about, all day, with a dreadful horse that he can't get rid of!

   And despite man's attempt to embrace the supernatural through religion, he still finds himself in the depressing cell of his natural world.

    These here are the core techniques every Killjoy Critic should adopt. Anything else lies under our base tenant: "If a book cheers you up, read it differently." Remember: Nothing is more serious than yourself. You are the center of your world, find yourself in books. But remember that though every single protagonist out there represents you, they also represent everything else under the sun, and this is depressingly serious business. These peculiar techniques for reading are a sure-fire way to find the act as deplorable as possible. And that is the best way to read. Not like a giddy schoolboy who fights dragons for damsels in distress; not one who seeks to improve himself by contemplating on the mysteries of some deep spiritual passage in an outdated and irrelevant book; not one who only wishes to expand his experiences by vicariously visiting other worlds, planets, and countries and seeing how those people view the world. No. After all the narrative has been stripped and all the additional meanings have been inserted into the text by some whimsically depressing rationale which can't possibly be taken with even the slightest amoutn of seriouness, the Killjoy Critic knows that, deep down, the best way to read a book is to read like a depressingly serious post-postmodernist.

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.wordpress.com)
In "The Catacombs"
September 10, 2013

Image:
"Old Man in Sorrow"
Oil on Canvas - 1890
Vincent Van Gogh 

Friday
Sep062013

North and Newton

This piece originally appeared on my (former) blog for the Newton Kansan newspaper on May 30 of this year.

     When I was sixteen years old, two Zambian orphan baby boys were placed in my arms, and I was told to name them. I asked if they needed first and middle names and was told only first names would be requisite. Without much hesitation I christened them with two of my favorite boy names at the time: North and Newton. I had no thought of the Kansas town at the time. North was a compass point and had a strong, virile Norse association for me. Newton made me think of a brilliant physicist and health-sustaining apples. So, if the LORD has sustained them, there are two nine-year-old boys growing up on the dusty Zambian plain north of Lusaka. I wonder every now and then whether they have heard the story of their Christening by the gangly, pale American youth, and if they wonder about me like I wonder about them.

       Well last Tuesday I drove to North Newton (the town) and ran on the Bethel track for a workout, reliving my track days, sans the hurdles. It was sunny, not too windy and not too warm. I ran a couple miles and a couple sets of stairs and headed home. As I drove home, windows down, on I-135 I thought of North and Newton, the only two people to whom I have given names—except my wife, and that was more of a legal, covenantal gesture than a creative one.

      The ill-fated Juliet Capulet famously asked, “What’s in a name?” And, where I Romeo listening below her balcony I would have responded, “Forsooth, quite a bit, Juliet. Just readith thou the Bible. God set great import on the name he gavest his son, Jesus. God didst change Abram’s name. Saul was transformed to Paul, following his vexing encounter with the risen Christ. Ah me! What’s in a name? All, my dear. Now, make haste. Get thee back to bed. I am no good for thee. Alas, it would not end well. Wherefore art thou tarrying? Fly! And do thou avoid all apothecaries and Montagues.”

       So I hope North and Newton are healthy, happy and well-fed, spiritually as well as physically. The town for which I accidently named them seems to be thriving, and I can only hope they are too.

 

R. Eric Tippin
in The Study on 8th Street
May 30, 2013

 

Image:
"Christening Sunday (South Harting, Sussex)"
Oil on Canvas - 1887
James Charles