Archive for the Impact on Society Category

Imperfect Paper

Posted in Benedikt K.'s Entries, Carroll's writing, Impact on Society, Philosophy / Big Picture on December 3, 2009 by Benedikt K

Why does Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have no simple meaning, no one path to follow through? Can he not express what he wanted to say within it? It is already written full of social criticism, and yet it seems incomplete, from the abrupt, rushed, ending to the hints at things not developed in the novel. But why could he not finish it?

Carroll was a mathematician, but he was much more than that, he was a human being and as such a born philosopher. Humans have always asked questions about the why and the how. Our very existence has prompted more questions than any discovery we have ever made, be it something as small as a quark, something as vital as a red blood cell, or something as vast as the universe. No practical question has been holding us off for as long as the mystery to our own existence. We fly throughout the sky, have seen the depths of the sea and mapped the entire earth. The challenges that present themselves to us seem to get greater every time we pass one of them. From how to farm over how to make a robot work to how to create a commercially efficient supersonic plane, they evolve, yet that question remains.

While we have trifled for so long with practical problems, our essence remains unresolved. We are, as Carroll knew, way too complex to ever explain. So Carroll tries to fit as much as he can into a single book. Not only does he attempt to cram a lifetime of social criticism and philosophy into his book, he tries to do it all while making it fun for little Alice to read. All philosophers have many, many works, none of them explaining everything. So while most try to fit a single, well developed point into their works, Carroll attempts to put it all into one epic, not epic by length, but by meaning.

Paper in itself, words themselves are useless when it comes to conveying a point, but they are all our primitive existence has come up with. Yes, language is complex and seems extremely daunting, especially when reading great novels. But our thoughts are much more complex than we have words for. So when we bring something to paper, have to actually formulate it, we are restricted by the words given to us, and can only hope that they make the reader think what we think.

Alice, this post, the internet itself is imperfect by its own definition. But this imperfection does not mean that we write in vain, there is beauty within this imperfection, and the meaning of any text is created by the beholder. Why I am writing this post may seem evident to you or not, but either way what you think of it is entirely different than what I think of it, or what the next person thinks of it. The imperfection of Language gives us more room to interpret, more room to seek and explore, to develop thoughts.

Hypocritical Views

Posted in Gabriella B.'s Entries, Impact on Society on December 3, 2009 by G.A. Buba

While reading Alice, I was struck by how insane, strange and just plain weird Wonderland truly is. There are strange talking creatures and odd nonsensical characters, quite outlandish in my opinion. I was quite sure that Alice was simply a whimsical and generally indecipherable depiction of childhood and the inanity of youth.

Then I realized how very hypocritical I was being.

I myself love the genre of fantasy/supernatural in general and often buy into the magical worlds authors create with their words. So I asked myself, what is so different about Alice? Why can’t I appreciate the magic and ignore the inconsistencies like I can with so many other books and novels?

I think my aversion to Alice can partially be associated with my childhood dislike for the Disney movie. I remember getting very frightened by the movie as a child so perhaps I am over analyzing to avoid what disturbed me as a child and am therefore missing the magic. Or perhaps I am falling prey to the awful trap of cultural difference and the fact that I am an outsider looking in? I can understand novels because I can identify with the character. Can such a thing be said of Alice?

It is possible that I am misunderstanding Alice just as some would misunderstand so many of the worlds more different and intriguing cultures? It is accepted that we find the ancient practice of foot binding in China harsh abusive and strange. But if we could go back to a time when that was acceptable I doubt we would ever find a noble woman who would choose the painless option. To do so would mean they would not marry well and would be considered a commoner, a peasant. Ostracized from society and the culture they were raised in.

So it is with Alice. Would any of the Wonderland characters criticize their strange customs and ways? No, how can one find strange the only thing you have ever known. Just as there must be knowledge of heat for us to understand cold, we must have an experience with something better to say that what we have currently is bad.

So in truth aren’t we all a bit hypocritical?

Back In Ye Olde Days…

Posted in Carroll's writing, Deron M.'s Entries, Impact on Society on December 2, 2009 by Deron Molen

Today I was commenting on Hagen F.’s post when I came to the conclusion that many of my fellow students and numerous others all over the world are unable to understand many parts of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

How many times have we heard our parents or grandparents talk about how hard life was way back when?

“Back in ye olde days…blah, blah, blah”.

Way too many if you ask me. They always say they had to walk uphill both ways to school in a foot of snow with wooden shoes. Why do we resent their commentary on how “easy” we have it? The answer is simple:

We just can’t connect.

The reason for this is because of the major time gap between Carroll writing the story and us having to analyze it today. The story was published 144 years ago. That is a very long time my friend. So much has changed from then to now. The trouble comes from Carroll trying to make jokes and comment on parts of society that have long since been forgotten. Thankfully, our version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland comes with annotations. They can seem obvious and boring at times, but the do help us pick up on some of the jokes that Carroll threw into his novel.

Carroll’s jokes and hidden messages lead us to another problem. Even if we are given the context of the joke, we still don’t understand it that well. What was funny hundreds of years ago isn’t necessarily funny now. Take the Mock Turtle for example. The Mock Turtle was meant to be a joke about turtle and mock turtle (which is made from veal) soup. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it probably has been a long time since any of us have had mock turtle soup. Carroll is slowly losing his connections with his audience as society keeps moving into the future. What are high school students 100 years from now going to think about Alice? Will they have the same opinions as us or those of students past? Of course not! It is the sad truth. The more time passes, the less of a connection Carroll is going to maintain with his audience.

Isolation

Posted in Benedikt K.'s Entries, Impact on Society, Philosophy / Big Picture on November 12, 2009 by Benedikt K

This post is a sort of a follow-up on Deron Molen’s post about which of the worlds is real, our world or Wonderland.

But what is real anyway. If we question which world is real, shouldn’t we first define real?

What is real really? Is what we perceive what everyone else perceives? How do we know that what is “green” to me is “green” to you? If I feel pain, do you feel the same or is it different?

As Friedrich Nietzsche says,

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”

What if there are no facts? Alice has little enough when she falls down the hole. All she can really rely upon is gravity, and even that may give out any second. So where do we go from here? While Descartes’ argument seems applicable here, it is actually not. We are not actually doubting the existence of the world, but the unified perception of it.

What if we were not only unsure of whether we are, but also what we are made believe? And, once more, the question arises, does it matter? Yes, according to Socrates an non-investigated life is a wasted life, but how does this actually change our sight of things? We would be isolated, with no common ground. Every man/woman would truly be an island. No unity, ever, no community. It would be as if we were a different animal, each and every one. Individualism should be a philosophical concept, not a reality.

But how would we develop as individuals.

As Friedrich Nietzsche says,

“Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”

So what if we, as social animals, are our own downfall? Alice, while in Wonderland, talks to everyone she sees, but never actually forms a group. She remains sane, but all the characters around her are parts of groups, and they are undoubtedly insane. How would humans develop as solitary beings, or beings that have no permanent ties?

Humanity has always formed groups. Nations, religions, tribes all came from the apparent need of humans to form groups. But what if we never had, had stayed lone hunters forever? How different would society look, feel, if there were no ties, no friendship? Different definitely, but would it be for the worse? Isolation tends to bring the most out of many people, tends to bring out their full potential, and yet it cracks them in other ways. What would happen?

The Morbidity of Morals

Posted in Chapter 1, Gabriella B.'s Entries, Impact on Society on October 30, 2009 by G.A. Buba

How many of us have ever invested any time in the reading of the Children’s and Household Tales or far more recognizable to modern readers the Tales of the Brothers Grimm? Not to be mistaken with the lighthearted and magical stories from many a modern reader’s childhood the Tales Grimm are quite morbid and on the whole, not something one would usually recommend as a good children’s story.

A very similar motif seems to be working its way into Alice. Within the first few pages there is a death joke, and this is not a singular occurrence but one that promises to be repeated throughout the story. A modern reader might wonder how such disturbing themes might be included in a children’s story, but these fables must be looked at from the perspective of the audience intended. In 17th and early 18th centuries life was hard. And children had to be taught that one must not go into the woods alone or any of the many other morals all of the stories of that era contained. They were dark and blunt because that was just how life worked and children had to be smart enough to stay alive because there often were no second chances.

Although Alice is the first children’s story to contain no moral lesson it still holds on to the darker style of writing that was still common in Carroll’s time. Aside from  obvious death references such as Alice’s thought that she would, “say nothing at all, even if [she] should fall off a house!” most disturbing is the words which follow “(which is likely very true.)”  Because of course such a fall would kill Alice leaving her unable to say anything. Then later she worries that if she drops the jar of orange marmalade it will kill someone below; there follows a passage in which Alice checks to see if the “Drink me” bottle contains poison. Her quick reading of the label cannot truly be considered a safeguard against the dangers of ingesting a poison. yet feeling assured Alice tries the liquid.  Upon tasting the mysterious substance she finds it tastes wonderful and proceeds to drink all of it.

A rather frightening prospect, no?

How many horrible things are sweet at first only to sour later?

Or often the far more insidious vices that taste sweet even as they kill you slowly. To a child this may seem a harmless scene, but a more experienced reader can easily see and understand the dangers of this situation.  At first glance you have to wonder why such a disturbing scene is even included in this whimsical story as it seems to insinuate so many darker themes. Other than attributing it to the writing of the day one can only assume that the dark symbolism and morbid humor which have allowed this children’s tale to continue to hold meaning for so many adults, was intended by Carroll as a way to give meaning to an otherwise banal and easily passed-over children’s tale.