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Ben Miller - English 213
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Belated Final Thoughts

            Whew, I almost forgot to post this!  I know it's late so if it doesn't count towards my grade than it's for your reading pleasure.

            For starters I want to say thank you.  Thank you to everyone who made this class possible: students, Dr. Sexson, the world wide web, Rio’s magic pen, and of course the classical texts.  Like Deborah, I wish I would have taken this course much, much earlier in my college career; however, if I had I may not of been fortunate enough to have Dr. Sexson as a professor, a class of incredibly interesting peers, or so many mythic coincidences.  All in all, it worked out pretty well. 

            Reading through some of the final blog posts, it was relieving to know that many students were wary of what a course in Classical Literature would entail too.  But I had an edge, so did Kayla, in knowing that Dr. Sexson is a masterful professor.  Not to toot your horn or anything here Dr. Sexson, but there are very few professors who can enlighten students in such an entertaining, passionate, and complete manner.  Dr. Sexson’s classes always reach a different level, where the students come together as a whole body desiring knowledge and fun.  Students always shed a bit of themselves, relax and open their bodies and minds without being self conscious; transform so to speak, which is really what college is all about: morphing into a better person in this poetic, mythic world.

            As always the myth of the eternal return has signaled its arrival with finals right around the corner.  Ironically, winter doesn’t want to give up just yet.  And as sad as endings always are, they also mean new beginnings – spring should show up anytime, at least for a few Montana minutes.  Next semester will be so fresh and sunny that this one will already be mythic, mythic qualities only students of classical literature class will recognize.

            From this class I will take with me so much that it’ll be enough to remember for years; the passion of the women in all the texts, Steiner’s conflicts that ring true for every genre of literature and life, stichomythia battles, the enduring power of love, ways to deal with unbelievably tragic events: catharsis, the enchanting world of frame narratives, how to ‘find’ myself again through anamnesis, and of course the ability to transform and morph, particularly by metempsychosis. 

            This is only a small glimpse at what there is to remember from Classical Literature, we’ll certainly remember this absurdly long spring snow tempest.  But it’s ok if we don’t remember everything right away because it gives us more to remember in the future, when we realize that what we look forward to in the future is merely to remember what happened in the past.    

Posted by bmcycleski at 12:11 PM MDT
Updated: Thursday, 30 April 2009 12:16 PM MDT
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Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Final Thoughts in progress and a poem

I am writing up my summation of our Classical Literature course as you read this; I should have it up within an hour, if not, by tonight at the latest.  

Until then, here's my poem from our Buddhist song of suffering and salvation to keep you entertained.


Mythic Immersion

Most people don’t know a myth’s always around.

They’ll ask and wonder why life’s tragic, unfair,

Until eyes peeled wide open see myths everywhere:

Some sad, some funny, most bloody and drunk;

But all from the past you ignorant punk!

It’s for you to perceive, this life up and down,

One mythical dream once lost but now found.


Posted by bmcycleski at 11:54 AM MDT
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Tuesday, 28 April 2009
1st Assignment

The first day of class professor Sexson told us to read the newspaper, carry it with us everywhere.  He asked us to think about the question, Where can we find "classic" literature in modern literature, newspapers, magazines, the media?  Throughout the course a number of major events happened that resonated mythic qualities, the horrifically tragic place crash, the deaths and suicides of prominent literary figures, the new president, and much more.  

Passion has also been an underlying motif, thought perhaps not acknowledged as much besides with Ovid, Shakespeare, Hughes, and Malouf.  But every text for our classical literature class had extremely passionate characters: Demeter, Antigone, Lysistrata, Socrates, Apollo, Alcibiades, Iphagenia, the Child, Midas, Psyche, and so on.  Passion.  Passion is the truest emotion.  It's practically impossible to hide passion. Passion reveals the entire spectrum of human emotions.  With this in mind I'll explain another 'one-in-three' coincidence.  

As I've mentioned before, the second book of Shadow Country is all about Lucius' passion to discover the truth behind his father's death.  It subsumes him completely, at times violently, tragically.  As I was reading an interview of Chuck Palahnuik I was struck at how he experienced the exact same passion for the true account of his dad and stepmom's double murder.  They were killed in their sleep by the woman's ex, who also burned the house down on top of their bodies - a mythic situation itself.  The interviewer asked Palahnuik, "How do you process something that horrific?"  To which Palahnuik's exact words are, "The way I've always done it.  I process things by gathering all the information I can and documenting it.  I just went out and collected everything about the murder I could find.  At the time my siblings didn't want to know anything about it, so I thought I'd gather everything for them.  I'd have it whenever they wanted to know.  I went to see the autopsy photos and the crime scene.  I read all the stories in the papers and talked to all the reporters."  (Courtesy of the Acteon nymph peeping magazine, Playboy)

Palahnuik's description of his manner in dealing with the murder of his parents is exactly the same as Lucius dealing with his father's death.  Both men want the details, down to the last man, bullet, and perception.  Identically, other siblings don't want anything to do with the reincarnation of their parents death.  Both men visit the crime scene, the dead bodies.  And they continually seek everyone's account of the murders, striving for what they hope is the truth, in the eyes of every beholder.  

This is a perfect, albeit tragic (another coincidence) example of a modern publication resonating classical literature ideas and themes.  It is also a perfect example of how passionate people can be.  Passionate for the details, the past, the present, the future, the mythic and the modern.                     

Posted by bmcycleski at 10:04 PM MDT
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Saturday, 25 April 2009
A Day with Peter Matthiessen

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to be a part of the Peter Matthiessen class, and then have front row seats at his lecture at the Emerson.  This was the first time I'd ever met an author, got their signature, and had the opportunity to ask questions and partake in a discussion.  And Peter Matthiessen is a remarkable author who's won the National Book Award twice, most recently for Shadow Country.  Meeting Mr. Matthiessen was everything I expected and more.  For writing an amazingly gruesome, bloody account of Watson, Peter was nothing at all like the character who'd been the obsession of his life for roughly 30 years.  Matthiessen was charismatic, generous, entertaining, funny, inspiring, and simply a great man; so actually, in a way, Matthiessen was similar to Watson but without the violence. 

We discussed a number of topics in the class thursday afternoon.  From environmental issues to race issues, to critics, research, sense of place, and the real Edgar Watson behind the fictional one, it was an awesome round-table discussion.  Peter was very humble, modest, and generous while sharing his knowledge and feelings towards often controversial topics.  However, all his answers and stories were extremely humane and I could not help but agree with them.  

I asked him about the quote I have been somewhat obsessed over, which he said he used the quotes to help exaggerate the ambiguousness of certain characters.  Asked about environmental issues he talked about Exxon Mobile's devastating use of the land, and how it will be the next generation of young people, us, the students, to step up and fight to protect the environment.  On the topic of race, Matthiessen bought up its absurdity, especially when people 'all used to be dung colored.'  He talked a little about Watson alcoholism, and said that if he wasn't a workaholic he would be an alcoholic.  His write-aholoic nature keeps him from wallowing in the dregs of alcohol - although he did mention in the class and at the lecture how he loves a good dry martini!  

But Matthiessen's drive to write was thoroughly realized when he said that 'he dies for a black page,' unlike many writers who can get lost in a blank page.  My favorite quote of the entire evening by Peter arrived in the discussion of place, a character's, and person's, sense of place.  He said that a person doesn't walk off the page, but rather that 'a person walks out of the landscape.'  This couldn't be anymore true and relevant in the grand scheme of literature, especially classical literature.  This was somewhat reflected in what he said about gravestones, and how they are fresh, fresh with facts and dates on the deceased.  Gravestones are inherently true and so something that can always be trusted and believed.  Cemeteries and gravestones are a very important part of Shadow Country.

At the Emerson I got the opportunity to "guard" a set of doors near the book signing table.  This task was actually rather meager as it seemed that the coordinator of the event just found something for me to do on a whim.  And in the end Sutter and I helped volunteer by drinking some tasty hefeweizen beer and engaging in some lively conversation with the other people attending the event.  But from my post by the signing table I was very intrigued at how excited, passionate, and even nervous some people where to meet Matthiessen.  Many people brought multiple books for him to sign, exchanged Buddhist bows, shared personal stories, and mainly had a very short but intense, intimate moment with Peter.  This goes to show how powerful literature can be.  One man even had a short piece of writing for Matthiessen to read, which upon finishing gave him a good laugh, and he showed Peter a small llama or camel figurine that looked authentic and must have been related to Buddhism in some way.  For all this attention, sometimes a little excessive, Peter Matthiessen was extremely courteous and generous, which goes to show how amazing he is as a writer and person.

Throughout the evening I had a gigantic smile plastered to my face.  It was a thoroughly enlightening and entertaining day, mirrored even more by the snowy weather.  Peter Matthiessen is definitely one of the most natural story tellers I've heard, another being a wise, young, handsome professor at Montana State University.  Any question an audience member asked Matthiessen resulted in a lively, thoughtful, often hilarious story for an answer.  Matthiessen himself seemed to be having a great time, cracking jokes and revealing his massively contagious smile.        

Posted by bmcycleski at 7:09 PM MDT
Updated: Saturday, 25 April 2009 8:19 PM MDT
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Friday, 24 April 2009
Term Paper

Ben Miller

English 213

Term Paper


A Novel of Mythic Proportions


            Where to begin – obviously the beginning, I know; yet with so much to say and so little time and room to write, it’s kind of odd that a beginning is always the hardest to start.  Perhaps this is why so many stories worth any bit of credibility begin in medias res.  Rather than bore an audience with a slow agonizing build up, it’s much more effective to slam the action upon them, thrust so many incredible events under their nose that even though the smelly action may be overwhelming, it’s pungent pleasing aroma teases the nostrils till they beg for more.  Peter Matthiessen’s masterpiece of a novel begins exactly in this manner.  The prologue of Shadow Country will undoubtedly hook anyone who picks it up; and if it doesn’t, the problem lies not with the text but with the reader, a reader ignorant of so many qualities it’s practically unbelievable they can even recite the alphabet.  In this ‘New Rendering of the Watson Legend,’ Matthiessen has seamlessly intertwined massive amounts of conflicts and themes found only in ancient, mythic literature, all enveloped in a dangerous time period of transformation.  Nestled in the Ten Thousand Islands of Florida’s Everglades, now a National Wildlife Refuge, Shadow Country exhibits an unprecedented amount of mythological qualities, comparable only to ancient Greek mythology, and should be classified as nothing other than Classical Literature.



            Throughout Shadow Country conflicts abound.  Around every page something happens; be it horrific, delightful, humbling, or downright evil, conflicts are everywhere and if they weren’t there wouldn’t be much of a purpose for the story, or literature for that matter.  Revisiting Steiner’s conflicts from Antigones, which we discussed back in the beginning of the class, it is excessively apparent they are alive throughout Shadow Country as well.  These conflicts seem simple, but only on the surface.  In order to complicate these conflicts, it’s absolutely necessary to dissect them.  But this dissection will not bring about a complete, finished answer, because theses are not those types of conflicts.  They are instinctual conflicts, and so ongoing and always pertinent.  By being biologically rooted in our species, these conflicts present a diversity of interpretations that may in fact be, infinite.  And so anything involving entertainment, and more importantly the arts, can cultivate ideas from these conflicts, which is exactly what Shadow Country exposes. 

            Edgar Watson, somewhat the protagonist and the antagonist, had at least five wives, at least because throughout the novel more characters arise who unveil a heritage that may have germinated from Ed.  Mr. Watson finds himself in all kinds of obscure situations and conflicts with women, whether it’s with his wives or daughters.  Matthiessen incorporates the man vs. woman conflict throughout the entire novel, and although women were unable to vote at this time their voice is notably prominent, often, if not always, as the moral equanimity.  I remember one situation in particular when Edgar is expecting his second wife – of official marriage – Jane Watson, and his children to arrive and come join him at his new plantation.  However at the plantation he lives with his common-law wife Netta.  In customary Watson fashion Edgar simply forces Netta and his daughter Minnie, named after his sister, to vacate the plantation.  But he isn’t able to do this before Jane and the kids arrive, so he lies and tells them Netta is a servant.  This is one instance where the conflict between man and woman is complicated and blurry.  It’s evident how worried Watson is about his wife Jane finding out about his plantation wife, yet it is gleaned that Jane knows what is going on.  But she knows Edgar’s temper is volatile and so doesn’t question her desperado husband.

            Another major conflict between man and woman arises in the third book and is between Edgar’s mother and father.  A die-hard confederate, Edgar’s father Elijah experiences a slow, degrading transformation after the civil war and abolition of slavery.  Yet even before abolition, Elijah’s wife had been pestering him about the horrific treatment of black people.  Once abolition happens and things begin to settle slightly, the confederate Elijah finds himself more and more as an outcast.  So what does he do: drink and fight, a lot.  And this only escalates the tension and conflict between him and his wife.  Mrs. Watson is constantly educating her daughter and when possible Edgar.  Of course, her more liberal, educated view on life conflicts with Elijah’s fundamentalist confederate view; this conflict remains prominent during Edgar’s childhood and he witnesses his parents argue a lot.  Interestingly, Edgar may have learned from his parents’ conflicts because the relationships he has with his wives are, more or less, good.  All of his official wives acknowledge they are deeply in love with him but understand at the same time his temper can be hideous and that he has acquired an untruthful horrible reputation.              

            The most relevant conflict of Steiner’s, in Shadow Country, is the conflict between the individual and the state.  What’s exceedingly interesting is how this conflict progresses throughout the novel, and the many levels this conflict plays on.  The prologue immediately displays Mr. Watson’s conflict with the state: a bloody, gruesome, deadly conflict that the entire novel is based around.  With widespread rumors rampant, Watson was inevitably going to catch up with this conflict.  Matthiessen’s intricate way of complicating Watson’s conflict with the state, in my opinion, is one of many reasons why this novel is phenomenal, especially in book one.  By writing each chapter from a different character’s perspective, and in that character’s voice and idiolect, Matthiessen weaves a naturally, somewhat ambiguous, depiction of Edgar Watson.  This diverse depiction reveals exactly how complicated Watson’s conflict is with the state. 

            Book two also gives an ongoing example of the conflict between the individual and the state.  Lucius, on his quest to write his father’s ‘true’ biography, brings this conflict upon himself.  By scurrying about questioning everybody he can find, Lucius outrages the people of the state who think he is up to no good, making suspect lists and only out for revenge for his father.  Ironically, Lucius learns a valuable lesson of truth from a known outlaw, Crockett Daniels, while interrogating him in his jail cell, “’Man wants the truth about Ed Watson,’ Daniels jeered. ‘Where you aim to find it? Smallwoods’ll tell you their truth, Hardens’ll tell you theirs. Fat-ass guard out there, he’ll tell you his and I’ll give you another. Which one you aim to settle for and make your peace with?’” (390).  Lucius, the individual, finds himself face to face with his opponent in the state penitentiary where he learns the truth is as diverse as the person who tells it.     

            In book three Matthiessen presents an older scenario, in the past within the timeframe of the novel, of the conflict between the individual and the state.   Upon realizing the horrific treatment of blacks, even freed blacks, throughout the Edgefield district, Selden Tilghman raises his voice against the confederate state, and more importantly the renegade Regulators who are out to make any black man’s life, literally and letterally, a living hell.  Tilghman stands up against the state, gives a passionate moral speech and is killed by his own kinsman for his thoughts on equality (514-515).

            The conflict between age and youth is a little more subtle.  But in book one there is an obvious conflict between Edgar and his first born son, Rob Watson.  Rob’s mother died during childbirth and it is unclear to me, so far, exactly how Ed handled this.  Rob survived and was ultimately raised for most of his childhood with his father and stepmother Jane.  But Watson had a nickname for Rob, Sonborn, which he said with a menacing, cruel tone.  What prompted this conflict between father and son?  Did Edgar hate his first-born son because his wife died to give birth to Rob?  Thus far I cannot answer exactly why this conflict arose and why it remained, until an intimate murderous bonding experience, but it is one that impacted both Rob and Edgar fro the rest of their lives.  With a little more of the novel under my belt now, I understand this conflict between Rob and Ed much better.  Yes, when Edgar lost his first wife during Rob’s death it was extremely traumatic for the young man.  He blamed himself for her death since he impregnated his young wife who may not have been quite old enough to give birth.  Upon learning about the death of his wife, Edgar is devastated and cannot even take responsibility for his new son, who he feels is just a bad omen.  It isn’t until his second wife encourages him to take responsibility for his son that he returns to his deceased wife’s parents to accept his son.  This also is somewhat forced upon him, and it may be that the mere sight of Rob reminds him of his first wife and it’s extremely hard to deal with.

            The third book also reveals the most one of the most crucial conflicts of Edgar Watson’s life; and that is between him and his dad, another age-youth battle.  Edgar was beaten and abused excessively as a child.  In drunken rages his father would lash out against Edgar for any small misstep, whether it was Edgar, his wife, of daughter.  Matthiessen does an amazing job portraying Edgar’s confusion with his abusive father.  No matter how abusive he is still his father, and during the beginning of the abusive stages, Edgar is lost between hate and love for his dad.  It isn’t until his dad nearly kills him, by slamming his head into a fixed house beam, that Edgar grows an abundant hatred for his violent father.  And Edgar finally gets his revenge with his own wooden beam, bashing his father, curled in a ball on the floor, repeatedly until he stops trying to fight back.  This was a transformation in Edgar’s life that ultimately send him off to begin his own unbelievable legend.        

            To discuss the conflict between the living and the dead in Shadow Country, along with the individual and the state, could take up enough pages for an entire capstone paper.  Strike that; it would take up enough pages for a capstone paper.  Edgar Watson’s conflict with the state lead to his death; Edgar Watson dead still remained a conflict for the living state, to the point where people refused to talk about it.  What complicates this tricky conflict further is all the people Watson was rumored to have slain during his life, especially on ‘Watson Payday’ as the locals came to call it.  The dead who Watson killed were always a leery, almost eerily sacred, dilemma for the people of the Islands to deal with.  The most hauntingly heinous murders where those of the Tuckers.  When the Hardens discovered their ruined bodies they were nearly unbearable to deal with.  Yet they knew it was their moral obligation to put the Tuckers to rest, safely in the ground.  The situation with the Tuckers was a conflict between the living and the dead but also was connected with Ed and Rob’s conflict between the young and the old.

            Edgar Watson was a religious man with his wife and children but an atheist any other time he discussed god.  The conflict between gods and humans is also very interesting throughout Shadow Country.  Edgar certainly knows the importance of religion for other people, but when it comes to himself he is extremely ambiguous.  And perhaps this is intensified because of the Greek literature he’s bonded with.  It was, after all, Uncle Tilghman who bestowed the literature to his nephew; as a youngster Edgar and Selden bonded due to Elijah Watson’s abusive nature towards both of them, “Cousin Selden and I wiped bloody noses. When Selden noticed our peculiar bond, he grinned; I had to scowl at him lest I grin back” (513).  Perhaps Edgar submersed himself in his Uncle’s Greek books after he witnessed Tilghman’s murder.  If so, Edgar certainly would have been exposed to the barbarity of human nature and thus taken on a very strict stance towards religion of any sort.




            Classical Literature contains a number of important themes and archetypes that help to make it so classic and powerful.  There are fluctuations between tragedy and comedy, farting, drinking, killing, exiles, crossroads, epiphanies, and initiations that all seem to happen over and over: the myth of the eternal return.  Shadow Country contains all of these archetypes and more.  What really weaves these archetypes together to form a novel of mythic proportions has a lot to do with the length of the trilogy, which unfortunately scares off readers who would find it an absolutely amazing read – and what has allowed me to procrastinate on my capstone paper as long as humanly possible.  Yet this mimics most people’s ignorant view of Classical Literature, books that are old, redundant and too long to read.  And that is incredibly too bad.  The length of Shadow Country allows it to reveal elements of the eternal return through classic archetypes, adding to its mythic power.

            The exile archetype is notorious throughout the novel.  Edgar finds himself exiled, somewhat by himself, to the Ten Thousand Islands.  Similar to Ovid’s exile, the reader is not necessarily sure why Edgar has been exiled.  As the story develops and we learn more and more about Watson, there are certainly many instances where the reader thinks they have learned the reason behind his exile, but it always remain unclear to an extent.  This may in fact be purposeful since exile is a very blurry line.  Edgar is not the only one who experiences an exile.  After his father’s death, Lucius becomes a pest for the people of Islands and is exiled from his father’s Chatham Bend plantation.  On multiple occasions Lucius is told never to return to the islands since there are numerous people who would rather see him dead that return to his father’s territory.  In book three, Selden Tilghman also undergoes an exile after he stands up for abolition and black’s rights in a still heavily confederate district.  During Selden’s exile, people are so disgusted with him that they never visit him outside Edgefield and his fields become overgrown and useless.

            I don’t believe Shadow Country is entirely a tragedy, but there are definitely a number of tragic scenarios.  There is even a situation of unparalleled tragic proportions, only matched by Euripides’s immensely tragic plays.  During the devastating hurricane of 1910, Edgar’s daughter by Josie Jenkins drowns before she even reaches a year old.  Even for a desperado this is as unfortunate as it gets.  The death of a child, or anyone in his or her prime, will always be the most tragic thing possible. 

            Bacchus’s ghost is an ongoing presence throughout the entire novel.  All the Watsons have a drinking problem.  It is their only release from a constantly labor demanding and violent life.  But as we all know excessive drinking can do nothing but harm, to the drinker and everyone around the drinker.  Both Elijah and Edgar are banished from lots of bars and saloons for their outrageous, violent drunken behavior that often lands them in jail for a night.  But once in awhile drinking acts as a crossroads of sorts.  Edgar is smashed off moonshine when he meets his first wife, Sarah, who he becomes madly in love with.  Lucius drinks a lot, but often he meets people while drunk in bars, on the street, or has a glass of whiskey at their house and learns valuable information about his father. 

            The crossroads, or crossrivers, is in the end what leads Edgar Watson to his fate.  As Peter Matthiessen mentioned at his lecture, he left it ambiguous whether Watson knew he was headed to his death at Chokoloskee.  It become the reader’s own interpretation, their own crossroads of sorts, where the facts, fiction, and legend meet Watson’s death and so the reader must decide what they believed happened.  But it was Watson’s choice to return to the Island or flee, a crossroads where he decided his own deadly fate.  In my opinion, I believe Watson knew what he was getting into but didn’t expect it to be so excessive.  I think he wanted to return to his family and spend time with his wife on her birthday.  The fact that his shotgun was empty reveals that he didn’t intend do harm; however, had his shotgun been loaded, perhaps he may have still been able to spend time with his wife and kids on her birthday.      

            Although Shadow Country is based around a specified time in American history, it’s underlying message, meaning is based entirely around the eternities. And it is these eternal themes that are most important, which is how Henry David Thoreau suggested we read, ‘read the eternities rather than the times.’  However, in context, the times are what entertain the masses, and so it is up to the reader to interpret the present, the here and now, in relation to the past in order to develop a significant, powerful, metamorphic understanding of a piece of literature.  But that is only one level.  Another level is to dig into life itself, as the meaning is always a question of upmost importance.  Matthiessen was well aware of this when he chose a superb quote from a letter by John Keats to begin book two of Shadow Country, “A man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory – and very few eyes can see [its] mystery” (251).  A man’s life possesses its own present as much as its past, its ancestors past and so on.  To further understand and feel completely satisfied with this sometimes unfortunate, tragic life, it’s important to decipher it through spectacles that can see into the past, not only the present.  Matthiessen took one man’s life and deciphered it obsessively, for nearly 30 years, and uncovered a story that incorporates conflicts and themes of such mythic magnitude that his novel, Shadow Country, is an entirely new rendering of a work of classical, mythological literature.    

Posted by bmcycleski at 6:16 PM MDT
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Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Another 'one-in-three' coincidence

After class today I watched some of the north-shore bikers on campus pedal around for a while.  I only saw one of them hit their jump.  And if I had known about this little bike expo I would have brought my bike for some school stress relief.  Once I got tired of watching the bikers fiddle around I read for Capstone and then walked to Irving to hang out with my CAP kid Darian.  It is International week or month at Irving so every class was assigned a different country to research and share with the school through displays and a large recital.  Well, when I arrived at Darian's class there was a guest speaker, a tall slender young man from east Asia.  I was intrigued; I crept in the back of the class room and found a seat on the floor against the north wall.  

  His name was Tenzin Konchok.  He was born in Tibet I would guess roughly 25 years ago.  His English was not great but as I caught on to the topic, I was immensely impressed with this young man's patience to present in front of 40 or so 3rd graders and a few adults all in his second language, which he was still learning.  He is a practicing Buddhist who has been exiled from Tibet, still under control by China.  This young Tibetan Buddhist was in Bozeman, Montana sharing his religion and Tibet's half-century long struggle for independence and freedom since 1959, and still in progress.  The bumper stickers are everywhere and have been for awhile.  Check out their flag too, it's way more badass than some stars and stripes, so much so I had to change the whole decor of my blog so you could see it correctly.


He was sharing the main points of Buddhist beliefs with the children who were actually pretty engaged.  As I walked in he was talking about the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Shanga.  I need to do some more research on Buddhism, but from what I've gathered thus far I find it better than any other form of beliefs.  Tenzin went over the 4 noble truths, which in his words are 1. suffering 2. cause of suffering 3. liberated (he wanted to use the word cessation but didn't know how to spell it, before I could speak he moved on to liberated) 4. Cause of liberated (which also would have been 'cause of cessation).  One student asked him how to say hello in Tibetan, which I learned is 'Tashi-Delek.'  He talked a little about the program he is working with to spread the word about Tibet's struggle and Buddhism.  

If your interested check out the website,  It will take you to the homepage of the Antahkarana Society.  There is also tons of information about Tibet's struggle for independence and Buddhism all over the trusty world wide web.  All in all, it was a fairly enlightening day, it all related so well with Classical lit that I was beaming from ear to ear, though not necessarily surprised it did.    


Posted by bmcycleski at 4:31 PM MDT
Updated: Thursday, 23 April 2009 12:12 AM MDT
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Friday, 17 April 2009
moon-lit, sun-starved thoughts

As I creep through another 900 page epic under Dr. Sexson's suggestion, I am utterly astonished at how real and surreal the book is at the same time.  This makes me wonder at the reality and surreality of how the past possesses the present; it does so almost expectedly, yet in ways that seem unbelievable when they happen.

Because this book has possessed me for the last couple weeks I have to blog about it, even though it's not technically part of the class reading list.  Then again, there really isn't any piece of literature that doesn't deal and connect with classical lit in some way or another.   

Peter Matthiessen's masterful novel, Shadow Country turns the knuckles white while under scrutiny, a scrutiny that's impossible to stop.  Thinking about the broad theme of our classical lit class, I am amazed at how the past within the book possesses the present within the book.  Being 900 pages there is plenty of room to develop a story line that succeeds in such continuity; but this novel does so so naturally it's erie.  Although I have yet to finish the entire novel, a three part saga, as I slowly flip through two-thirds of it I have an edging inclination that I unconsciously know where the novel is headed, generally speaking - Mr. Matthiessen has surprised me on numerous occasions already.  But leaning on how Dr. Sexson described the destination of our classical lit class, as we return to the beginning with Demeter and Persephone, I have a feeling Shadow Country is going to come full-circle in an astonishingly apocalyptic manner.  

The first book deals with the present and surrounding circumstances of Edgar Watson's lifetime around the arrival of the twentieth century: his numerous wives and many children, his plantations, his neighbors, his crop-hands, and his legend.  There are references to his history from the other characters but the main focus of book one revolves around the immediacy of E. J. Watson's life, and most importantly conflicts.  

In fact Matthiessen foreshadows Watson's death in the prologue, which is relived at the end of book one, and so the book is imbedded in the past from the beginning.  

After Watson's death, however, things get much more confusing, distorted, and complicated.  Which brings me to my amazement with Matthiessen's technique and stye of hi writing in Shadow Country.  There are not exactly numbered chapters until book three, and even then they appear to be used sparingly.  There are chapters of viewpoints, or perceptions - perceptions of what people think are the truth.  From these intricately layered perceptions it becomes the reader's responsibility to piece the puzzle together, cliche I know.  But in book two the reader gets the assistance on one of Watson's sons, Luke, or Lucius, a name which appeared in our most recent classic lit text, The Golden Ass. Chances? One in Threeee!  There definitely seems to be some sort of transformation of Lucius in Shadow Country, which has yet to be fully developed.

I'll keep blogging about this novel as I flip to the end - yes, I realize we were supposed to give a running commentary of The Golden Ass, but rules are meant to be broken, circumferences meant to be stretched.

 P.S. There are a number of different quotes dividing the separate books.  One that I really liked was by none other than the man who coined 'negative capability,' John Keats.  I'm not sure exactly what work of his this quote is from, someone let me know if they have an idea, but I think it relates well to classical lit and is simple absolute, eternal: "A man's life of any worth is a continual allegory - and very few eyes can see its mystery."            

Posted by bmcycleski at 2:37 AM MDT
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Wednesday, 8 April 2009
more term paper thoughts, excuses

            I’ve been contemplating a number of ideas for my term paper and I believe I’ve finally narrowed it down.  I was so impressed by Malouf’s rendering of Ovid’s exile in An Imaginary Life that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about it. 

            Although I am still trying to focus my paper, and thoughts, I grabbed a couple books on Malouf at the trusty library and started page flipping.  Here’s a quote I found in the Contemporary World Writers edition of David Malouf, by Don Randall, “The decision to write an imaginary life for Ovid is based on a primary recognition that history is synecdochic, that our sense of the past is necessarily partial and gapped” (42).  It brings back memories of 300 and our ongoing debate over the definition of synecdoche and metonymy.  Kayla remembers.  Good ‘old synecdoche, a part stands for the whole.  A part of history stands for the whole; the past possesses the present. 

            Where will this term paper take me?  We’ll see.  I imagine it’ll turn out somewhat essay-ish, maybe if I’m lucky, even poetic; but I will certainly enjoy writing it.  My tentative tile is ‘Malouf; Historical, Imaginary, Autobiographical, or D - all of the above?’  No thesis statement yet, but I’ll post one when it comes to life. 

            As for that test, well, it was harder than the first one, that’s for sure, at least for me.  I mixed up my Ovid stories so bad, especially after trying to keep all the Homo sapiens, ergasters, and erectus’ straight for my anthropology test the class before.  Yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses; it was just a test; ‘My soul would sing of metamorphosis,’ to transform into a raccoon; ‘I shall have life, I shall live.’  -Good stuff, good times.     

Posted by bmcycleski at 2:01 AM MDT
Updated: Wednesday, 8 April 2009 2:07 AM MDT
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Sunday, 5 April 2009
Test Notes
1. Flyting: stichomythia of insults, competitive benign insults and arguments.
2. Tally: from Symposium, Aristophanes, a broken piece of coin, usually half, shared with friend.
3. Echo, unrequited love.
4. Romeo and Juliet = Pyramus and Thisbe
5. Name three people from Plato's Symposium and summarize their theory of love.
6. Tragedy means goat song; comedy means revel song.
7. Metempsychosis = transmigration of souls
8. Catharsis is the purging of pity and fear, a cleansing of emotions through literature so we don't have to experience the tragedy personally. 9. According to Trojan Women, what is the worst thing that can happen? A: sacrifice a child.
10. What does the word obscene mean? A: off-stage.
11. New Comedy vs. Old Comedy; weddings, feasts, and dancing
12. Anamnesis; Plato's theory that we already know everything when we're bone but we've forgot it all, and so must relearn it.
13. Dr. Sexson likes to think of reincarnation as poetic thought, or metaphor.  
14.  What did Paris choose when he was offered any gift from the goddesses? A: Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.
15. What character does Aristophanes use for reincarnation? A: a naked girl.
16. Sophocles vs. Euripides tragedy; hubris, formal truth vs. emotional tragedy.
17. According to Freud, we laugh to keep from crying.
18. Symposium speakers and love theories.
19. tragedy and the individual, comedy and society.  
20. parbeasis (sp?) part of a comedy where the audience is abused.
21. Which Ovid story transforms two bears into constellations? A: Calypso
22. In greek tragedy, women taken prisons during a war become slaves or concubines.
23. Phallocentrism: male dominant view of society and culture, represented by the phallus.
24. Aristotle says the perfect literature is tragedy.
25. According to Plato, what happens when we see something beautiful? Our shoulder-blades itch because we are trying to flap our angel wings, of which only shoulder-blade-stumps remain.
26. nostos = a homecoming
27. Niobe turned into a weeping stone.
List of Transformations:
- acteon to a stag
- narcissus to a narcissus
- atlanta to a lion
- pentheus to a boar
- 4 ages - gold, silver, bronze, iron; myth of declension.
- adonis to a wild flower
- arachne to a spider
- myrra to a tree from which adonis is born
- tireseas, a man to a woman to a man
- midas's ears to ass's ears
texts for test:
Plato's Symposium,
Trojan Women
Iphigenia at Aulis
Ovid's Metamorpheses
An Imaginary Life
And the two essay from Lysistrata: Athenian Women & Greek Comedy.                  

Posted by bmcycleski at 1:04 PM MDT
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Sunday, 29 March 2009
Term Paper Ideas

I'm actually having some trouble deciding on a subject for my term paper.  I was considering writing about the nature of time, usually cyclical, in myths and classical literature; but I'm not sure.  Kayla had a great idea of writing a modern displacement of an Ovid tale.  It might be fun to write a modern play of sorts, similar to Lysistrata or something.  If you have any ideas Dr. Sexson, let me know.  I was even thinking about comparing archetypes of myths and classical literature to skiing!  But that is really silly.  

And since I don't know what to put down for my term paper, I think I'll skip class on Monday.  Actually, I'll be skipping class to belatedly celebrate my father's birthday.  A nice father / son bonding ski trip is always gratifying.  

Rio, post that audio and I'll tune in to the classical lit radio tom night, sponsored by musical pens and the world wide web.  Weeeiiii.   See you all on wed!

Posted by bmcycleski at 8:57 PM MDT
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