We Might Never Shed Our Nonage, Y’all. But it’s OK.

As a sophomore I took the History of Literary Theory and Criticism class and learned about Foucault and institutions and my mind was blown. I left with the knowledge that we’re never going to escape these institutions, none of us are actually ever going to be ORIGINAL; pretty depressing stuff.

This class was awesome because we read geniuses like Kant, who told us to try to shed our nonage anyway. And even if this never may be possible–to be truly original; independent of others’ influence–we still read a ton of cool stuff from the Enlightenment and tried to use it to make meaning of today. To question what was happening around us.

If institutions always define us, can we at least educate ourselves enough to shape institutions in the most positive way possible? Though we never may truly escape these institutions, we should still try our best. La Mettrie wrote “As for the rest—the willing slaves of prejudice—they can’t reach the truth any more than frogs can fly.” Even if we never TRULY reach enlightenment, at least we didn’t become the willing slaves of prejudice. We never may reach “truth,” but we’re trying.

This class wasn’t even mandatory, and people still showed up to class — every day — to debate what these smart dead guys could add to our understanding of today. And we always left class disagreeing with one another, but we were forced to think critically, for ourselves, and try to shed our nonage.

So, that’s what this class taught me. It’s a pretty important life lesson to be reminded of. Think for yourself, engage with other smart people, debate, and look to the intelligent people of the past to interpret the present (but debate with them too). We might not ever truly reach enlightenment, but that’s no reason to not try.

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Art improving society by making us think

I am going to relate one of Richardson’s quotes on art (paintings) to music today: “But Pictures are not merely Ornamental, they are also instructive; and Thus our Houses are not only unlike the Caves of Wild Beasts, or the Hutts of Savages…Our Walls like the Trees of Dodona’s Grove speak to us, and teach us history, morality, divinity, excite in us joy, love, pity, devotion, etc. If pictures have not this good effect, tis our own fault in not choosing well, or not applying ourselves to make a right use of them.” If we’re going to relate this to music, we could say that music is not purely entertainment, it’s also instructive…It should teach us history, morality, divinity, ANYTHING….

Miley Cyrus – We Can’t Stop

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrUvu1mlWco

“It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can see who we want

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can see who we want

Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere
Hands in the air like we don’t care
‘Cause we came to have so much fun now
Got somebody here might get some now

If you’re not ready to go home
Can I get a hell no
‘Cause we gonna go all night
‘Till we see the sunlight alright

So la da da di we like to party
Dancing with Molly
Doing whatever we want,
This is our house
This is our rules
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
We run things, things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody yeah yeah

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can see who we want

To my home girls here with the big butts
Shaking it like we at a strip club
Remember only God can judge us
Forget the haters cause somebody loves ya
And everyone in line in the bathroom
Trying to get a line in the bathroom
We all so turnt up here
Getting turnt up yeah yeah yeah

So la da da di we like to party
Dancing with Molly
Doing whatever we want
This is our house
This is our rules
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
We run things
Things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody yeah yeah

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can see who we want

It’s our party we can do what we want to
It’s our house we can love who we want to
It’s our song we can sing if we want to
It’s my mouth I can say what I want to yea, yea, yeah

And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life
And we can’t stop (whoa)
And we won’t stop (whoa)
We run things, things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody, yeah yeah
Yeah yeah, yeah yeah,
(We can do what we want, we can do what we want) hey”

This. Song. Is. So. Horrible. If we’re really going to stretch what Richardson would’ve said about Miley Cyrus, we could give him the benefit of the doubt — maybe he’d say this song is fine because it brings some (deaf) people joy. However, I suspect that he would despise the song because it has no moral value, no intellectual value, no chance of bettering society. Instead, it encourages people to act mindlessly and party and not care about anything (the exact opposite of what Richardson wanted art to do).

But, I wanted to point out another Richardson quote: “If gentlemen therefore found pleasure in pictures, drawings, prints…and the like curious works of art [music]; is discovering their beauties, and defects; in making proper observations thereupon; and in all the other parts of the business of a connoisseur, how many hours of leisure would here be profitably employ’d, instead of what is criminal, scandalous, and mischievous!”

Now, I don’t believe that the primary goal of art should necessarily be to improve society. Art is a means of expressing oneself, and in my opinion, self expression should be the main goal of art. Only sometimes does this form of self expression mean also attempting to improve society. However, I do agree with Richardson in the sense that people should hold themselves to a certain standard of what they CHOOSE to enjoy as art. In my opinion, Richardson would have called indulging in loving a song like “We Can’t Stop” scandalous and mischievous. Even though the song is music and therefore technically “art,” Richardson would not have supported it. Instead, he would say that “’tis our own fault in not choosing well.” We as a society have chosen to make this song popular and relevant! While in my opinion art does not necessarily need to instruct society, popular music today definitely reflects the values of the majority of the American culture. It is so sad to me that a song like “We Can’t Stop” is what a large percentage of American wants to listen to on the radio.

While it is difficult to define what is “good” art, I believe that Richardson was getting at the idea that art should challenge us. It should improve society in that people spend their time enjoying it because the skill and intricacies in the art created by the artist. Thus, the mindless pop songs that take over the radio these days are, in my opinion, only making our nation worse.

Here’s an example of some good art I think Richardson would approve of:

“The Cave” – Mumford & Sons

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KkUeRPjc-Y

It’s empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you’ve left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
Know my name as it’s called again

Because I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I’ll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s hand

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

Because I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

I know it’s cliché to choose Mumford & Sons, but they are a good example of a popular band that writes meaningful and complex lyrics, and ask serious questions about life. They also are all very skilled artists. Therefore, being a fan of Mumford & Sons would follow Richardson’s belief that listening and being a connoisseur of art can shape society positively. To appreciate music like this is to appreciate artistic talent, and the music “excite in us joy, love, pity, devotion, etc.” as Richardson suggests art should. Richardson wrote, “And if learn to draw, and to understand pictures, and drawings were made a part of the education of a gentleman, as their example would excited the others to do the like, it cannot be deny’d but that this would be a farther improvement even of this part of our people: the whole nation would by this means be removed some degrees higher into the rational state, and make a more considerable figure amongst the polite nations of the world.” I believe that making skilled and meaningful music, as well as appreciating skilled and meaningful music, really could achieve this end.

Ballad/rap

Mark well my sad tale of schoolwork,

Not handling responsibility well,

Don’t put off your papers til the day they are due

I can assure you, your professors will be able to tell.

 

It’s true! I woke up at 7 this morning

To write a paper due at nine,

And when I hit that “submit” button,

I knew an “A” would not be mine.

 

So hang in there my peeps

It’s hard out here in Tommy C

Bustin out papers,

Easy to quit

But we gotta keep pushin

Only 2 weeks left – don’t throw a fit!

 

We worked our butts off all semester,

Life ain’t easy as a college kid

So don’t waste all your hard work

By blowin off your papers due this last week –

You’ll really feel like a jerk!

I said, if you blow all your hard work now you’ll really feel like a jerk.

 

 

Link that I based my ballad section on:

http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ballad/31270/image#

Group 7 TJ Statuses

Thomas Jefferson – status 1 (Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, Nov 2 1822)

I’m still a little bit nervous as to when this school is ever going to open… we have dorms and houses for people to live in, but no library! Somehow, the legislature got away with denying us the money for a library. I hope that they will have better sense next time around, but… who knows. Speaking of nerves, upon reading a letter from my man T. Coop, I’m also a bit nervous about the young adults growing up in America right now… these kids’ parents have let them run wild, and they think they know everything. I can only hope that we make it through these next few years!

Thomas Jefferson – status 2 –– Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, Oct 7, 1814

LOL @ how freakin small the handwriting is on a letter I just received. I feel like I went blind after reading that crap. Anyways, can I just say for once that just because you’ve read a couple books by Caesar, Virgil and Euclid does not make you a genius?! And definitely does not give you any sort of credibility in the science world. Sorry for the #subtweet but I had to get that one off my chest.

Also, I’m feeling a little bit torn about the whole professorship of Theology thing. I really don’t think I want a Theologian at my institution, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. I don’t really get how we could get a professorship of Theology and then exclude anatomy and botany from education?! No disrespect @ my man Tcoop.

Status 3 — Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, Oct 7, 181

#LT sorry to post again about Anatomy and Botany but come on. What could be more important than knowing about how your body works?!! AND WHAT ABOUT THE PLANTS!? Mineralogy is important and all, but what could be cooler and more fun than knowing about all the stuff around you when you go outside?

Finally, I’d like to give a shoutout to my man @Tcoop and the sad fate of his Emporium. Tcoop, this is only a short fix, and hopefully it’ll be back in no time…I hope once all this gets sorted out, it’ll be back! Our artists definitely miss it! @Tcoop, you always have my respect!

Witchcraft

In June 1682, 60-year-old Jane Kent was accused of “Witchcraft and using several Diabolick Arts.” Specifically, Jane was accused of killing a 5-year-old girl named Elizabeth Chamblet. Elizabeth’s father told the court that Jane killed Elizabeth because he refused to deliver 2 pigs to Jane without Jane giving him the money to pay for them. After he refused to give Jane the pigs, Elizabeth’s father said that Elizabeth’s body swelled and turned discolored, leading to her death. Elizabeth’s father also told the court that Jane bewitched his wife. In addition to the reports against Jane by Elizabeth’s father, another unnamed woman also reported that Jane “had a Teat on her back, and unusual Holes behind her eats.” Additionally, a man stated that Jane somehow forced his Coach to overthrow after he refused to “carry her and her Goods.” In addition to “many other circumstances,” Jane was found not guilty due to the facts that she lived honestly, was a great pains-taker, and went to Church.

In my opinion, the allegations reveal that, due to lack of medical resources and scientific discoveries, grief-stricken or confused people blamed witchcraft for untimely deaths or sicknesses. Elizabeth Chamblet’s father was most likely devastated by her death, confused by the swelling and discoloration of her body, and so desperate to find a reason that he blamed it on witchcraft. Oftentimes during a death or tragedy like this situation, people deal with the grief by looking for a scapegoat. Elizabeth’s father most likely was distraught and didn’t understand her death, and turned his despair into anger by accusing Jane Kent of causing it. Lewis Scaife supports this belief with the quote, “Superstition generally decreases in proportion to mental development.” Most likely, Elizabeth’s father lost his head a bit and in turn blamed Elizabeth’s on witchcraft because he had no other reasonable cause. It also, most likely, did not help that even the doctors at the time gave cures such as “to take a quart of his wives water, the pairing of her nails, some of her Hair, and such like, and boyl them.”

The assertion by Ankarloo, “Witchcraft delusions, were in short, the malady of weak minds,” not only assumes that only the “weak-minded” believed in witchcraft, but that all notions of witchcraft were “delusions.” This quotation also serves my readings of the allegations against Jane Kent. A lack of understanding of things like death or disease, combined with “weak,” emotionally disturbed, or confused minds, are the reasons why people turned to witchcraft as an answer or explanation.

Gender

As the prompt says, Butler believed that gender roles are a social construct. She points out the unfortunate fact that we feel forced to follow these social constructs, always acting, never truly being ourselves: “Gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation.” She criticizes the way that these gender roles have permeated throughout the centuries and dominated our identities and how we feel pressured to act, both individually and in relationships.

In my opinion, Swift thought along much of the same lines as Butler, in terms of criticizing these gender roles and expectations of women. His poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room” is a bit humorous in the horrific realizations the male character stumbles upon in the dressing room. This woman is not just unattractive, she is truly disgusting: “But oh! it turn’d poor Strephon‘s Bowels/When he beheld and smelt the Towels/Begumm’d, bematter’d, and beslim’d/With Dirt, and Sweat, and Ear-Wax grim’d.” I really enjoyed the poem because I felt it criticized the role and image that women are supposed to follow while also satirizing men’s expectations of women (because really, without one we wouldn’t have the other). In this sense, I think that Swift agrees with Butler – that our sex in fact is not always the true determinant of our gender, because gender is sexually constructed, while sex is biological. A gender role can be more of a choice and is more influenced by society – for example, how women feel pressured to look perfect and beautiful all of the time. In my opinion, this is not a feeling that they are born with because they are biologically women; rather, this idea is thrust upon them by society.

I think it is unfair to say that heterosexuality is the original of homosexuality. In a way, this makes homosexuality sound like a lesser form or a copy of heterosexuality, implying that heterosexuality was first/the best. Instead, I think all couples relate to one other based on both personalities, not the idea that every couple needs to have a “woman” and a “man” counterpart. Love is love, and while homosexuality is a concept that is only just now in time coming to be accepted legally and as an accepted relationship, it has been around for a long time, probably for even as long as heterosexuality. I think rather than wondering if homosexuality stems from heterosexuality, we should just accept that all relationships (and friendships, for that matter) stem from love and compatibility between two personalities, and call it a day.

Enlightenment

Enlightenment, to me, is being at the point of truly thinking for yourself—being free of the obstructions of “truth” that society embeds into our brains. As such, I do not believe enlightenment is possible. According to my definition, the only way someone could achieve enlightenment would be if they were born and then plopped down by themselves in the middle of nowhere, never subjected to the influences of other human beings and the teachings of their institutions. They would have to grow up alone from other humans.

However, then someone could make the argument – what’s the point of being “enlightened” if you don’t even know how to read and write? If you can’t share that enlightened thinking with someone? I could go into the argument that language is a socially constructed lie anyway; we can’t even get to the “truth” by using language. Or I could just say that I believe that the ultimate enlightenment is more of a spiritual state where you are entirely able to think for yourself, freely of the institutions man has created in order to create social order. I refrain from calling enlightenment a certain kind of knowledge because knowledge stems from truth and what really is “the truth”??? Can there really be one attainable truth? I don’t think so. The closest thing to truth that I can think of is just that everything in our world is constructed.

By the way, I am not criticizing these institutions – I get that human beings established the family, the school, government, laws, etc. as institutions essentially so that we all wouldn’t just kill each other off – I’m just saying that because we live in a world of institutions, I don’t think we can ever escape their influence. Nothing we do or think or say is ever actually truly original or enlightened.

Kant in some ways comes close to my take on enlightenment: “Enlightenment is a man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage… Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance.” Kant emphasizes the importance of the enlightenment being focused on the self and separated from others. My definition definitely fits in with Kant’s in some ways (though not all) because he believes to be enlightened we must rise above the influence of society. I just am not sure if we are ever able to fully shed our nonage while we live in this world.

Descartes, on the other hand, loses me when he says that the existence of our souls and consciousness means that there must be a God. “I have for many years been sure that there is an all-powerful God who made me to be the sort of creature that I am.” I do not mean to be offensive, but I felt that Descartes’ weakest point is his justification of God in his argument. I am all for people having religious beliefs, but the jump he makes from the existence of our consciousness to the seemingly proven existence of a greater being was a bit much for me. I also think that the mind and body are more interwoven than what Descartes says.

Additionally, Locke’s “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” did not describe any sort of enlightenment that I agree with. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of obedience and adhering to social rules: “If his tender mind be fill’d with a veneration for his parents and teachers, which consists of love and esteem, and a fear to offend them: and with respect and good will to all people; that respect will of itself teach those ways of expressing it, which he observes most acceptable.” Locke is all about teaching kids manners and the proper ways in which they can grow up to be respectable citizens. This purpose is fine for creating a well-behaved and obedient society but it does not push for original or enlightened thought as I have defined above.

I want to conclude with Mettrie because I did agree with some of his points (though I do not believe we are machines/robots). Despite my earlier statement that I don’t believe we can reach full enlightenment (via my definition), I do not necessarily mean this in a depressing way. We can still achieve a certain level of critical thinking within the world that we exist. Though our thoughts may not be entirely original, they are still important because they are a part of our unique and personal experience in life. We may not be truly enlightened, but we can still think and make choices that will shape our lives. La Mettrie writes, “As for the rest—the willing slaves of prejudice—they can’t reach the truth any more than frogs can fly.” Although we cannot reach true enlightenment, we should still fight against becoming the willing slaves of prejudice. We should continue to question our beliefs and horrible prejudices and always reach for that possible original thought that is true to ourselves. Furthermore, it is necessary to strive for enlightenment and that critical thinking in order to keep the institutions that define our society in check and morally sound.