Housekeeping: Finishing up the 3-day quote challenge!

I love the subversion of The Family Circus comic.

I read somewhere that when Robert Frost wrote The Road Not Taken, he was intending it as a harsh critique of one of his friends that would always agonize over small decisions like which of the two equally suitable paths to take. I could not find the original article that I read this in, but I did find one article that talks about how people interpret the poem differently than Frost had intended:
This article doesn’t offer the best proof of Frost’s intentions because he relies solely on his own interpretation of the lines in the poem and not on historical evidence like letters or journals. However, author’s intentions and other reader’s interpretations only matter as much as you want them to. Poetry interpretation is intensely personal and any poem can mean anything that you want it to mean.

Here goes. Y’all ready for my final quotes for the challenge? I hope so. And I equally hope you’re ready to share more with me!


This one is quite special to me. I’ve always loved the poem – look, I know poems aren’t exactly what is meant by “quote.” But fuck it, just look at it as an extra-long quote that’s kinda sorta like a poem. Cuz it’s a fuckin’ poem! – but it became even more special to me in college. One of the best professors in the world would read it – and cry – at least once in every course he taught. For decades. The world is a sadder place with his absence. I hope I can live up to the dream he had for all of his students…to Carry the Message to Garcia (oooo another post idea) and to take the road less traveled by.

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Screaming into the Void


I have been blogging on here on WordPress for about five months now. All this time, I have been amazed to see views from around the world. I would receive one or two views one day and none for the next few days, and here and there I would pick up a subscriber or two. But for the last month or so I started to get views just about every day, and for the last two weeks I have been receiving record numbers of views (for my blog anyway).  Last week I made a new record high on daily views, and so far this week I have made a new record high on daily views three times.

I know that my blog is small potatoes right now, and forty-nine subscribers will sound like a pittance to many. But I am very grateful for everyone that has viewed any one of my posts and even more grateful for anyone that feels like they want so badly to read the silly things that I have to write that they would actually subscribe to the unfocused jumble of words I lovingly call my blog. However, I was so used to screaming unnoticed into the void that it feels really strange to realize that I have suddenly started to draw a crowd. I kind of feel like the mentally ill homeless man standing on the street corner warning of the end of days. I don’t mind if you stand around and watch but just don’t take any of my words too seriously.

How do you revise your work?

I was introduced to the love of language while I was still in middle school. I borrowed a book of dirty jokes from one of my classmates (I am old so these were pre-internet days). I read through the jokes and memorized the ones that I understood and told them as often as I could. It became a thing where my friends and I would trade dirty jokes back and forth. In an attempt to memorize the long and drawn out jokes that my friends would inevitably stumble through, I would shorten the jokes to their most basic parts to remember them easier. Once I knew the basic parts of the joke I could embellish and make the jokes long and rambling like they were told to me in the first place. Through repeated tellings, I realized that the embellishments slowed the pace of the jokes and made them less funny, so I began to tell the bare bones jokes rapid fire and my friends loved it. I didn’t realize, I was learning an essential skill for writers. By repeating the jokes and reformulating them to be funnier, I was learning the basics of revision.

I can take you through the process step by step with a sample joke as I might have had it told to me when I was young.

Three men were walking down the street. One was Russian, one was Polish, and one was American. There was a bar in the middle of the sidewalk. The Russian and the Polish man smacked their heads into the bar, but the American ducked.

At this point the joke is not very funny. It is being drawn out and over told, but it could be pretty funny for a 10 year old. So to remember it without having it retold over and over, I would break the joke down into its important parts.

The Intro: There are three people walking down the street.

The action: Two hit their heads into a bar.

The Punchline: The last man ducks.

I would remember the joke like this and add embellishments where I thought they were needed, but the joke still took too long to get to the punch line. As a 10 year old I needed to get out as many jokes as I could before my friend remembered a joke he could tell me. So I would begin to retell the joke without the embellishment: A Russian and a Polish man walked up to a bar and hit their heads. The American Ducked.

This wasn’t that funny because the action was being over explained and telegraphing the punchline, so I simplified it: A Russian man and a polish man walked into a bar. The American Ducked.

That was a lot better, but identifying the nationalities of the men involved in the joke (even though all the jokes that people tell on the streets seem to require this type of detail) didn’t seem to be adding anything to the laugh that I got at the end of the joke. So I shortened the joke even further: Two men walked into a bar. The third one ducked.

Now the joke was fast and funny. And any type of writing works just the same as a stupid joke for 10 year olds. First you get the writing on paper in draft form. Then you decide what the most important parts are and rewrite them over and over until you have distilled the story, poem, or even essay into its most powerful form. And just like the process of a 10 year old revising a joke, it takes countless rewritings before the revision process is done.

What is your revision process like? And What got you interested in writing in the first place?

A Clockwork Orange: an Adornian Love Story

Good ol Miloko

In the introduction to A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess says:

“If [someone] can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice but only a clock-work toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State” (Burgess ix).

While Burgess goes on to lament Alex’s loss of freewill due to the Ludovico Technique as an immoral act, the real interesting part of Burgess’s quote is his interest in the “Almighty State” as the one who winds up the clockwork orange. The idea that the state controls the individual’s actions falls in line with the ideas of Theodore Adorno’s “Resignation.” Reading Theodore Adorno’s “Resignation” alongside Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange shows how the totalitarian government of the novel controls its citizens by allowing violence to run rampant in the streets as a coercive tactic to gain greater control over the rights of its citizens.

Much like the goings on of citizens within totalitarian states like North Korea or Iran, Burgess’s novel is impenetrable to the casual outsider. Unless you have bribed the guards or winded your way past the barbed wire, the only way an outsider can understand what it is like to live under a totalitarian regime is through rumor, innuendo, and outright fabrications. The Nadsat Language is the barrier for entry into the totalitarian state of A Clockwork Orange.

The very first place that Alex’s ultraviolence is noticed is in the language of narration. Alex’s Nadsat language forces the new readers to take part in the revolution and violence of the novel by slowly indoctrinating them into the language of rebellion. Learning Nadsat is the initiation ritual that immerses the new reader into the society and allows one to see beyond the brutal violence of the text. In fact, learning the Nadsat language is a very important part of understanding what it is like to live under the conditions of subliminal conditioning and outright brainwashing.

The Nadsat language comes with a built in key for easy translation. Because Nadsat is not a true language with an exhaustive vocabulary and its own peculiarities of syntax, the unfamiliar words can be sussed out through context clues. In the introduction to the novel, Burgess refers to Nadsat as “A Russified version of English” (Burgess x). The Russified words are placed within the context of a much more recognizable Cockney English. And some of the more obscure words are stated in Nadsat and then repeated in more typical English. Otherwise, learning to read this novel would be an all but impossible experience.

The first page of the novel starts off with a quick repetition designed to give the new reader a seamless introduction to the first Nadsat word used. Alex says, “There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim” (Burgess 1). Directly after he says “droogs,” Alex rephrases to mention his friends by name. The didactic nature of this rephrasing was hidden as a quirk of his Cockney speech by having it follow quickly after Alex rephrases his own introduction when he says, “There was me, that is Alex.” The text is even more blatant on the next page when referring to the codpieces they wear Alex says, “Pete had a rooker (a hand, that is)… and poor old Dim had… a Clown’s litso (face, that is)” (Burgess 2). Alex is blatantly translating for the benefit of the new reader (It is true that Alex is narrating the story retelling from an unspecified amount of time in the future to an unspecified group of people that he refers to as “my brothers” and on page forty-three Alex sees a couple of younger girls that have their own language that Alex barely understands, but the point still stands). After page two this sort of hand holding drops off and one must learn the most of the rest of the Nadsat words through context alone.

While Burgess says that the Nadsat language was intended to soften the blow of the intense violence by filtering it through a barely understandable language (Burgess x), this filter wears off as the new reader begins to understand the words. The slow removal of the filter to the violence gives the new reader time to become desensitized to the intense violence. The desensitized reader becomes docile and accepting of the distasteful actions within the novel. If this desensitization were to never occur the reader would never be able to finish reading the novel due to its graphic depiction of violence and rape.

John Tilton agrees with the notion of desensitization, but he takes this idea one step further. He says, “Readers are seduced by the alien language to participate in the violence to delight in the savagery of the scene without being aware that they are giving expression to their own savagery” (Tilton 26). Therefore, the Nadsat language functions within the novel as a recruiting tool that brings the new reader into the totalitarian society as a full-fledged ultraviolent criminal. This initiation into the ranks of the criminally abhorrent is necessary for the reader to be able to relate to Alex’s struggles as the main character.

But this language serves another purpose as well. According to Robbie Goh’s “Clockwork Language Reconsidered: Iconicity and Narrative in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange,” “The novel’s vision of social control is thus encoded in the different kinds of linguistic performances on the part of Alex the everyman of this dystopian world” (Goh 264). In other words, the Nadsat language of the novel results from and helps to reinforce the state’s control over its people.

The Nadsat language acts as a rebellion from state control. However, rebellion from the state sponsored English has little or no potential for making political change, so the language of the youth is tolerated. In fact, the Nadsat language that Alex and his friends speak separate them from the rest of society and identify them as ne’er-do-wells. Adorno considers “action that overdoses and aggravates itself for the sake of publicity” pseudo-activity, and pseudo-activity is accepted by the people in charge because it has no possibility of making any true political change (Adorno 291). Alex’s Nadsat language can only bring notoriety to him and his friends on the streets where someone can overhear his rebellious speech. But even then this speech only has the result of making Alex feel like he is accomplishing something while actually accomplishing nothing. In order to make to the big time of newspaper recognition, Alex and his friends have to resort to the ultra-violence that puts them at odds with the law if not exactly at odds with the state itself. But even though Alex and his friends have ratcheted up the rebellion from pure speech to violent criminal activity, they are still only reacting on the basest levels to the stresses being applied by the state, and therefore, not doing enough thinking and planning to make any true change. In fact, they are so indoctrinated into the expectations of the state that do not even have any political goals or expectations. Alex and the other youths only know that this type of action is expected of them, and that is all they need for motivation.

Even though Alex at times has a clearer and more nuanced understanding of the society he lives in than most, he still falls into the role of pseudo-activity with relish. He seem to thrive on the publicity that he receives as part of the rebellious youth movement that gave rise to the Nadsat language. He is not just satisfied to be just another foot soldier, he takes steps to be the head man in his crew, and he wants his crew to be the number one crew in town (Burgess 4, 16). After his first conversation with P.R. Deltoid, Alex revels over the headlines that he sees in the paper and tries to make sense out of the question Deltoid had posed. Alex says, “And there was a bolshey big article on Modern Youth (meaning me, so I gave the old bow, grinning like bezoomny)[…]. It was nice to go on knowing one was making the news all the time” (Burgess 40, 41). While the headlines are not detailing Alex’s crimes specifically, he was excited to be a part of the impetus for this article. The pride that Alex received from reading this article seemed to quell his earlier existential crisis revolving around what P. R. Deltoid had asked him about the nature of his criminal activity, “Is it some devil that crawls inside of you?” (Burgess 39). He goes on to read an article about a priest that seemed to blame the violence on the devil and Alex uses this article to excuse his actions as not being his fault (Burgess 41). But this seems like a thin veneer of excuse.

Alex is near coming to some sort of revelation about the nature of his badness when he says, “But they the not self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot have the bad because they cannot allow the self” (Burgess 40). Just because Alex does not come to a conclusion about where the source of his badness comes from, however, does not mean that there is no solution to be found. In the introduction to the Novel Burgess says, “A clockwork orange [is] […] a clock-work toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State” (Burgess ix), and Alex says, “Badness is made by old Bog or God and his great pride and radosty” (Burgess 40). Even though the Nadsat dictionary says that Bog stands for God (, the pairing of the word “Bog” with “God” separated by “or” suggests a dichotomy That Bog is equal yet opposite to God. The fact that “Bog” is so close to the word, “God” only backward and somewhat skewed with the addition of a “B” where one might expect a “D” also adds to the idea that bog could actually mean something other than God. And when Alex’s quote is read next to Burgesses quote the similarity in placement of the words shows that “Bog” does not translate perfectly to “God.” Burges writes, “God or the Devil” and Alex says, “Bog or God.” In both examples “God” is paired up with its opposite and it would make sense that Alex would give the possibility that either God or The Devil is the one that created him to be bad. However, Burgess’s quote from the introduction offers one more possibility for the “Bog” that could be the creator of Alex’s badness. Burgess’s third choice “The Almighty State” is the obvious choice for who has created Alex to be bad because it is “increasingly replacing both,” God and The Devil.

Alex was on the right track but he just had things backwards. The government needs the violence that Alex creates in order to gain even more control over the rights of the population. In fact the novel starts off with Alex describing the good old days (or bad old days depending on the point of view) to the people that he refers to as his brothers. These good old days were when there were not enough police and when places were still allowed to sell drugs without regulation. Also when Alex sees the Governor in the prison he is overheard saying something about needing to clear out the jails for political offenders (Burgess 91). When coupled with Adorno’s idea that governments allow violent pseudo-actions in order to pacify activists and to allow more power for themselves (Adorno 292), the impending influx of political prisoners and the allowance of street violence through a decreased police presence gives strong evidence of government manipulation of the populace.

At times, even Alex can sense the crushing weight of the government’s control over every aspect of his life. Referring to a man in the Korova milk bar who begins to hallucinate on one of the drugs that are for sell there, Alex says, “The chelovec sitting next to me […] was well away with his glazzies glazed and sort of burbling slovos like ‘Aristotle wishy washy works outing cyclamen get forficulate smartish’” (Burges 3). The juxtaposition of Alex’s Nadsat speak against the hallucinating man’s gibberish sounds hauntingly similar. The gibberish has the same poetic rhythm as Alex’s speech, and it has a similar alliterative structure like Alex’s “was well away with” and the hallucinating man’s “wishy washy works.” The hallucinating man’s gibberish makes reference to Aristotle similarly to Alex’s many references to exemplary musical figures from the past such as Bach and Beethoven. The only true difference between the gibberish and Alex’s Nadsat is that Alex allows context clues between his gibberish and the hallucinating man does not. Therefore, Alex’s description of what the high is like also describes what it is like to live under a totalitarian government. Alex says, “You got shook and shook until there was nothing left. You lost your name and your body and yourself and you didn’t care” (Burgess 3). Alex ends the description of the drug’s effects and says, “That sort of thing could sap all the strength and goodness out of a cheloveck” (Burgess 4). Therefore, one would expect that the youth would not be the only ones to be acting out violently.

According to Tilton’s Cosmic Satire in the Contemporary Novel, “If one adds the prison guards, all the police, and P.R. Deltoid, there is in the content of Alex’s story an extensive range and variety of violence, both individual and institutional that establishes it as typical adult behavior” (Tilton 30). In fact, the Ludovico Technique stands as a prime example of the intrinsic violence within the psyche of the government itself. The Ludovico Technique uses violent images to cure Alex of his violent tendencies. Alex is dosed with drugs that cause violent bouts of nausea and physical pain. Describing the first of these experiences Alex said, “I had like pains allover and felt I could sick up and at the same time not sick up, and I began to feel like in distress […] being fixed so rigid on this chair” (Burgess 104). These drugs are administered in conjunction with restraints that Alex is forced to sit in for hours without even the ability to move his head (Burgess 101). Even without the violent videos that Alex is forced to view, these conditions of the Ludovico technique are extreme measures that would only be administered by the most sadistic of individuals. In fact, when Alex begins to scream for them to stop the procedure, the orderlies mock him and laugh (Burgess 105). The use of violence to cure violence shows a deep disconnect in the thought processes of the people that developed these procedures. This technique is a symbol of the all-encompassing power of the totalitarian state. And it shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that the government has no qualms using violence to achieve its goals.

The images of violence used in the Ludovico technique are an over the top critique of the tactics of totalitarian governments that actually existed historically outside of the novel itself. The images they force Alex to watch contain film of atrocities committed by both the Nazis and the Imperial army of Japan during World War II (Burgess 105, 113). While this section of the novel is supposed to teach the reader how to spot these types of totalitarian governments as they are forming, the novel already shows both that constant exposure to images of violence cause the person experiencing them to become desensitized and that those within the sphere of the totalitarian government’s control are slowly brainwashed into following whatever the state expects of them. Therefore, this aspect of the novel seems to lose some of its power because of the overwhelmingly contradictory messages that are being expressed.

Even if the message of the novel get convoluted at points, the citizens of any society are at risk when governments give up their morals in exchange for greater control and political theorists like Theodore Adorno are leading the way to understanding how to keep governments under control. However, not all political theorists fare as well as Adorno. The extreme cognitive dissonance that is created by the conflicting objectives of showing how to spot a nascent totalitarian government and also showing how they pop up without drawing the alarm of the people they are oppressing juxtaposes well with the narrative of F. Alexander. The intellectual, bleeding heart liberal, political activist turned cold blooded murderer would be a difficult narrative to get a reader to believe if it hadn’t come directly after an extremely confusing conflict of themes. But more interestingly F. Alexander’s narrative stands as a confirmation of the main argument of Adorno’s “Resignation.” Political theorists should stay as far away as possible from advocating ways to create change because their role is to create an interchange of ideas that lead to gradual change by changing the thoughts of society. And even political theorists are not immune from the trappings pseudo-activity when they let their emotions force them into action.

Works Cited

Adorno, T. W. “Resignation.” Telos 1978.35 (1978): 165-68. Web. 28 Apr. 2015

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.

Goh, Robbie B. H. “‘Clockwork’ Language Reconsidered: Iconicity And Narrative In Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.” JNT: Journal Of Narrative Theory 30.2 (2000): 263-280. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on A Clockwork Orange.” SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

Tilton, John W. “A Clockwork Orange: Awereness Is All.” Cosmic Satire in the Contemporary Novel. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1977. Print.


The thing about being funny and having girlfriends (or any one that you spend most if your free time with) is that you are funny to them at first. They say that humor is one of the things that drew them to you in the first place (most people claim to value a sense of humor in their friends and partners). But this is not true. The “normal,” less funny people of the world can’t handle being around truly funny people.

“Normal” people like humor the way they like salt: a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there and just the finely refined and iodized table salt. They look sideways at kosher salt, but they might eat a little on their pretzels without too much complaint, and they pretend to like sea salt. Inevitably, they will have a fancy shaker of the stuff on the counter or in the center of their table, but the layer of dust on top of the shaker betrays their true feelings about the stuff. “Normals” only want to bring out the inherent flavors of their food.

But truly funny people like their salt in any form they can find it. They shake thick layers of the stuff on everything, heart disease and good taste be damned. They don’t stick to the standard or even trendy varieties like sea salt or that clay imbued pink stuff. You will find them licking the salty road dust off of your car or even sucking the sweat stains off the crotch of your workout shorts. In short once “normals” (such as girl friends) get close enough to you to notice that humor is the only thing that you care about, they become irritated by your humor. Not because spit out an unpolished joke that you plan to work on later, but because they hate you and everything that you stand for.

The Lady in the Mirror

Francesco Casetti argues in his essay “Adaptations and Mis-adaptations” that adaptation is much more than just formal variation of the same themes (Casetti 83). Casetti states, “To present a story that has already been told, means to explore how cinema [the new adaptation] is capable of renewing and intensifying the relationship between text, representation, and spectatorship” (Casetti 84). Of course, Casetti’s essay deals with adaptations between literature and film, but the ideas he discusses can easily encompass any other form of adaptation. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s 1871 adaptation of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s 1842 poem creates a new discourse between the poem and the prose; Phelps’s focus on the poor of the nineteenth century city creates new meaning around Tennyson’s poem just as much as the connection to Tennyson’s poem creates new meaning around Phelps’s short story. The direct connection between Tennyson’s original poem and Phelps’s prose adaptation creates an area of discourse between the two works that illuminates the conditions of the poor in the emerging cities of the nineteenth century.

Phelps’s short story, “The Lady of Shalott” adapts the title and many of the themes from Tennyson’s poem by the same name. The adaptation from poem to prose serves Phelps’s story by allowing for greater levels of development within the story. The spare nature of Tennyson’s poem means that it has to rely heavily upon shared cultural knowledge in order to create a textured and affecting narrative. Tennyson’s poem draws heavily upon the tales of King Arthur and Camelot to create imagery and meaning while keeping the poem to a relatively short length. Phelps’s prose, on the other hand, has plenty of space to create its own context within its own text. Phelps’s story completely removes any mention of Camelot or any of the characters from Arthurian Legend. In fact, the only reference to medieval the feudal system comes from the title of lady given to The Lady of Shallot. The ability of prose to be more or less self-contained gives Phelps’s story the ability to reference other texts in a much more subtle way. The extra room for embellishment within a short story allows it to take on larger cultural concerns than that of a poem.

Phelps’s story does more than just reuse and repurpose the title and character of Tennyson’s poem; Phelps’s story makes a reference to the fictional nature of The Lady of Shallot by directly mentioning Tennyson’s poem within the text of the story. While referring to The Lady being crippled from childhood, the narrator states, “This is a fact which I think Mr. Tennyson has omitted to mention in his poem” (Phelps 1871). This mention of Tennyson and his poem, “The Lady of Shalott” in the text of Phelps’s short story, “The Lady of Shalott” creates a discordance within the logic of the story. The discordance brings in to question the validity of the name and title of Phelps’s Lady and allows for the possibility that Phelps’s narrator is disguising the character’s actual name as The Lady of Shalott. Phelps’s story also drops the title of Lord from Tennyson’s name and replaces it with the more common title of Mister. While calling into question The Lady’s title could be considered an attempt at making the character more relatable to the setting of a nineteenth century American city, the lowering of Lord Tennyson’s title can only be seen as an act of political subversion.

In Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shallot resides in an island tower outside of Camelot (Tennyson 1-18). Camelot stands as the beacon of riches and power in Arthurian Legend. And towers are military structures that symbolize the extension of military control over an area. The lord or lady of the tower would be responsible for the protection and military control of the lands all around, but The Lady’s tower controls little more than fields of grain. The poem’s narrator states, “On either side the river lie/Long fields of barley and of rye,” (Tennyson 1-2). Tennyson’s Lady sits atop her tower separated from Camelot by the river and by the people who till the field. These fields are outside of the limits of Camelot, and the farmers know that they are in need of protection because of this need they celebrate their unseen protector (Tennyson 14-31).

Tennyson’s poem shows the connection between protector and exploiter in the feudal system. Just because the farmers know that they are in need of protection does not mean that they should be taken advantage of. Tennyson’s narrator states, “And thro’ the field the road runs by/To many-tower’d Camelot” (Tennyson 4-5). This is only the first of many mentions of products moving towards the city. The road and the river both flow toward Camelot, the mighty symbol of civilization (Tennyson 4-5, 13-14). The road and the river bring boats, barges, and horses, carrying the grain and other products to the city (Tennyson 20-23). King Arthur’s tales are stories of feudal lords and in the feudal system the wealth only flows one way, away from the peasants and toward the king. The river ever flowing to Camelot separates the Island of Shalott from the fields (Tennyson 8-13). This separation symbolizes the conflict of interest that The Lady has. She makes the claim to protect the farmers under her charge, but the road and the river that are the corridors of trade stand between her tower and the fields. While her tower may extend a small amount of protection over the fields, it mostly provides oversight of the movement of goods towards Camelot.

However, Tennyson’s poem draws attention away from the plight of the poor farmers and the unfairness of the feudal system, and draws attention to the beauty and spectacle of Camelot and the lords and ladies heading that way that. Early on, Tennyson’s poem states, “And thro’ the field the road runs by/To many towered Camelot” (Tennyson 4-5).The poem plays up the image of Camelot by touting its military might with the mention of its many towers. And it continues to play up the inviting nature of Camelot by reiterating the idea that everything is moving toward the fabled city. The poem mentions Camelot eighteen times (Tennyson 5-167). In fact, only one stanza fails to include the name of the city, Camelot. The one stanza than fails to mention “Camelot” replaces the word with Lancelot, who is likely the best known of Arthur’s knights (Tennyson 77). The description of Lancelot continues on for thirty two lines (Tennyson 77-108). Lancelot is decked out with a gemmy bridle, a silver bugle, and a thick-jeweled saddle, and all of these riches travel along with him to Camelot (Tennyson 82, 88, 92). The critique of farmer’s treatment in Tennyson’s poem only comes to light after reading Phelps’s story.

In Phelps’s story, the political subversion cuts both ways. It comments on the feudal system that gives rise to the titles of lord and lady, and it shows the connection between the feudal system and the nineteenth century American version of capitalism. The Lady in Phelps’s story stands both condemned as oppressor of the poor and celebrated as one of the poor oppressed. In Phelps’s story the lady’s tower is the tenement building in which she lives. This building is in the middle of the ghetto, and the ghetto is in the middle of the city (Phelps 1871). The Lady’s tenement building shares none of the amenities of a medieval tower which houses a regal lady. The Lady lives in the attic room of an old ramshackle tenement. The room in infested with rats, a hole in the wall lets in the weather year round, and the stairs have no rail (Phelps 1871). In Tennyson’s poem, the fields separate the Lady from typical civilization on every side by food products that they do not have any claim to, and Phelps’s story does the same thing with the products of the people’s labor. Phelps’s tenement/tower is surrounded by people. These people, the residents of the ghetto could be considered to be her subjects that she watches over, and she watches over the flow of the products that they create from the poor of the ghetto to the coffers of the city. While the poor people of the ghetto are surrounded by the opulence and beauty of the nineteenth century civilization’s crown jewel, the modern city. Like the medieval feudal system the nineteenth century city is built on the backs of the poor for the benefit of the rich.

Phelps’s Lady only ever sees the world through her mirror (Phelps 1871). This mirror shows her dual identity, how she lives as one of the poor but sees the lives of the lives of the poor through the eyes of the eyes of the rich. When The Lady sees waves in the mirror, Phelps’s narrator says, “They have green faces and grey hair. They threw back their hands, like cool people resting, and it seemed unaccountable…. Besides this, they kept their faces clean” (Phelps 1871). The green faces and grey hair of the waves conjures images of American presidents printed on paper money. According to, American dollars had a green printed back and black ink printed on the front (United States Note). The back face of is green ink and the fine detail in the black ink of the portrait on the front makes the hair look grey. These waves of American currency double as people, as the poor of the ghetto. They have hands to throw back and rest. The “unaccountable” resting wave people mirror the typical stereotype of the poor as lazy and irresponsible. And the description of clean faces represents the way that the people of the city that benefit from the conditions of the poor can willfully ignore the cultural and economic pressures that force the poor into their lives in the ghetto.

In Tennyson’s poem, the poor farmers that provide the economic income that allows for the continued existence of the city of Camelot have a connection to the products they make by following the growth of the grain from planting to reaping. But Phelps’s story alienates the poor people from the process of production. The characters of Phelps’s story do not get the satisfaction of producing an entire product. This story shows the poor of the nineteenth century city as a cog in a much larger machine. Sary Jane is constantly sewing (Phelps 1871). She sews together the cloth that was created in a factory out her sight. And the workers in the factory that create the cloth are removed from the growing, reaping, and processing of the cotton that goes into the cloth. Neither Sary Jane, the people that create the cloth, nor the people that grow the cotton get to be involved with the selling of the nankeen vests that Sary Jane or any of the other countless seamstresses sew. As the only mention of jobs for the poor In Phelps’s story, Sary Jane’s never ending repetitive job stands in as a typical job of the nineteenth century poor worker.

Every time that Sary Jane shows up in this story, she is sewing nankeen vests, “at sixteen and three-quarter cents a dozen” (Phelps 1871). But for her labors she gets very little in return. According to, the rent for a New York tenement during the 1870s would run between eight and fifteen dollars per month (Lower Eastside Tenement Museum). In order to make the eight dollars for rent, Sary Jane has to sew at least five hundred and seventy-six nankeen vests per month and more if she and the lady want to eat. Sary Jane must average just over 19 vests per day just to afford rent. If she works sixteen hours per day, she has to sew one vest every forty minutes of every waking hour of every day. Sary Jane seldom makes enough to cover much more than just the rent. Just like in Tennyson’s poem, the goods flow away from the people that produce them.

When speaking about the grain that the farmers sew, Tennyson’s poem states that the grains of barley and rye “clothe the wold [sic] and meet the sky” (Tennyson 3). The narrator shows the importance of these grains with the romantic description. The grains clothe the world. To clothe the world literally would keep the planet warm and protected from the elements, but in this case, the world is referring to civilization. Sary Jane’s nankeen vests literally preform the function that the grain figuratively performed in Tennyson’s poem. Sary Jane’s vests cloth the world or at least the people in it. The clothing of the world with grain protects civilization by keeping fed the people that comprise the civilization. Her constant sewing references back the farmers working in the fields of Tennyson’s poem. But the farmers of Tennyson’s poem have an advantage over the poor workers of Phelps’s story. They are working with actual food products. If they are not being compensated enough to buy their own food, they can eat the grain that they are growing. However, In Phelps’s story, Sary Jane and other workers of the nineteenth century city make an inedible product. If they are not being compensated enough to buy their own food, they go without. In the scene that she goes in search of food, Sary Jane comes back with only a lemon for her dinner (Phelps 1871). And this lack of nutrition does not bode well for Phelps’s Lady, who had been crippled from a young age.

Both Tennyson and Phelps use the breaking of the mirror as the impetus for The Lady’s death. But Tennyson’s Lady dies because of a curse and Phelps’s Lady dies because the lifting of a curse. When the mirror shatters in Phelps’s story, The Lady is no longer cursed to see the world through the eyes willfully ignorant eyes of the rich. When the doctor comes to check on The Lady, His eyes are finally opened to the true horror of the treatment of the poor. He is shocked by the conditions in which The Lady lives and claims that she could be cured if only she gets moved to better conditions and given treatment. But Just like The Lady, who is incapable of changing her situation due to her inability to move, the doctor seems to be paralyzed by the by the enormity of the institutionalized problem that he is faced with. Instead of actually taking care of her himself, he sends for the board of health and goes on vacation. The doctor like so many of the others that had seen glimpses of the life of the poor hands off his responsibility to help to someone else. And The Lady follows the doctor and goes off to take her rest instead of doing something to fix the societal problems. Only, The Lady’s restful vacation from her stressful existence in the city is one in which she cannot return. The Lady’s restful vacation from her life is death.

Tennyson’s poem and Phelps’s story work together to create a field of discourse around the unfair treatment of the poor in the medieval feudal system and the capitalist society of the modern nineteenth century city. While Casetti shows that the ideas brought up in the original occurrence of a story inform the reading of the ideas that come up in the adaptation Tennyson’s poem into Phelps’s story shows that the ideas of the adaptation can also inform the reading of the original.

Work Cited

Casetti, Francesco. “Adaptations and Mis-adaptations: Film, Literature, and Social Discourses.” A Companion to Literature and Film. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

“Lower East Side Tenement Museum.” Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Web. 6 Dec. 2014. <;.

Phelps, Elizabeth. “The Lady of Shalott | Robbins Library Digital Projects.” The Lady of Shalott | Robbins Library Digital Projects. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

Tennyson, Alfred. “The Lady of Shalott (1842 Version) | Robbins Library Digital Projects.” The Lady of Shalott (1842 Version) | Robbins Library Digital Projects. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

“United States Note.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.

Powers’ Classical Realism and Wolfe’s Anti-ideal Ideal

The anonymous article, “The Process of Sculpture” details the typical artistic process for creating a sculpture in the 19th century and how the process was altered when Hiram Powers created his sculpture “The Greek Slave.” The sculptural process begins with the creation of an iron frame for support. On top of the frame, the artist applies clay until the sculpture is nearly complete. Then, the artist hires models from whom he or she derives the minute details of the sculpture. Finally, the artist directs the work of laborers to recreate his work of art in marble. However, Hiram Powers deviates from typical procedures by choosing a slave as his subject and by using a single model to sit for his sculpture. Powers’ slave is contrasted against Zeuxis’ picture of Hellen of Troy. And whereas Zeuxis had all of the beautiful women of Greece to blend together into the ideal Helen, Powers only used one model to create his sculpture (The Process of Sculpture 317-318.) The Realism in Power’s approach and the contrast between realist and classical approaches to sculpture take center stage in the discussion of Hugh Wolfe’s statue in Life in the Iron Mills; yet, Davis’s story shows that art, like life, defies simple categorization.

According to the article, “The Process of Sculpture,” true artistry was only attainable by those who went through several time consuming preparatory steps and were blessed with “high and refined mental gifts” (The Process of Sculpture 317-318.) And the actual carving of the marble was done by laborers. The article states, “The processes whereby it was now to be transferred to marble… are purely mechanical, and are performed, under the artist’s directions, by uninspired hands” (The Process of Sculpture 318.) However, Wolfe brings into question the validity of these ideas.

Both Powers and Wolf bucked the classical trend by creating sculptural works that used subjects that fit well within the Realist Ideal. The subject of Powers’ sculpture The Greek Slave, although modeled from classical Greece, is a slave, and the focus on the lower classes is one of the hallmarks of Realism. However, Powers departs from realist ideals in his choice of model. He found one model that satisfied almost every ideal standard of beauty (The Process of Sculpture 318.) And the reference to Zeuxis of ancient Greece in the article adds the feeling that Powers’ standard of ideal beauty did not stray far from that of the ancient Greeks.

Wolfe, on the other hand, maintains the standard of realism not only in the selection of a female worker as the subject of his sculpture, but also in the rugged standard of beauty in which he renders the sculpture. The dichotomy of ruggedness and beauty are exemplified when Doctor May admires the beauty in the sweep of muscles in the arm but says, “A working woman,—the very type of her class,” and Mitchel replies, “God forbid” (Rebecca Harding Davis 53.) To add on to the idea that Wolfe has created an object defies easy categorization as art (at least within the classical style of thinking), the narrator, describing the statue, says, “There is not a line of beauty or grace in it” (Rebecca Harding Davis 53.) With this thought even the narrator seems to be debating with him or herself the particular artistic merits of Wolfe’s sculpture. Therefore, Powers’ proclivity for minor deviations from classical style would not be enough let him enjoy Wolfe’s sculptural work. Powers would likely share Mitchel and Doctor May’s sentiment if he were confronted with Wolfe’s sculpture. But the mere fact that Mitch, Doctor May, and Kirby spend so much time discussing the sculpture proves its worth as an important work of art.

In the end, Wolfe’s sculpture is shown to have no real value other than its ability to bring up the question of how we define and value art without giving any definitive answers, but the contrast between classical and Realist styles in both “The Process of Sculpture” and Life in the Iron Mills shows that the process of sculpture is whatever process one chooses. Wolfe has chosen to create his sculpture without the aid of a master artist, and presumably, without the aid of early planning stages. The narrator never gives a definitive statement as to whether or not Wolfe has done any study sketches, carvings in miniature, or full size sculptures in clay prior to commencing work on the statue. However, Kirby does claim that Wolfe could have used any of his shirtless coworkers as inspiration and anatomical study (Davis 53.) While Wolfe skips many of the classical steps in the sculptural process, if Kirby’s assumption is correct, Wolfe has the realist equivalent to Zeuxis’ pick of all the women of Greece in his hundreds of coworkers, and by proxy Wolfe’s sculpture is the Hellen of the working class, the Realist ideal, the anti-ideal ideal.

Work Cited

Anonymous. “The Process of Sculpture.” Life in the Iron Mills. Ed. Cecelia Tichi. Boston: Bedford, 1998. 317-318. Print.

Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills. Ed. Cecelia Tichi. Boston: Bedford, 1998. Print.

New Prompt! Tuesday Use It In A Sentence – Demonstrate

My #tuesdayuseitinasentence is: This demonstration demonstrates my ability to demonstrate.

This sentence leads nicely into my own challenge for you. Pick any random word and repeat it over and over until the people you interact with on a daily basis tell you to shut up. I am calling this my #IactLikeAfiveYearOld challenge.

I think that you will find that after about the tenth time that you say your word in a row the word will have lost all its meaning for you, and your coworkers will think you are crazy.

Please leave me a comment describing just how many meltdowns you were able to cause.

Yes, I’ve decided to launch another prompt. This one isn’t just for the blog, in fact I urge you to do it on Twitter, if you have one, or Facebook, or here on WordPress or Blogger or whatever you use. The one thing that will connect us is this: #tuesdayuseitinasentence. I’m doing this as an experiment of sorts, to see how well a hashtag can drum up views and connections between platforms, so please bear with me as I figure this out as I go along.

This is how you can join in:

Write a sentence using the word of the week. Make it as creative as you can. You can add to it, for instance this week’s word is “demonstrate,” but you can use “demonstration” in your sentence. In other words, the word of the week is flexible. So you can do something like this:

“In a grand display…

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I’m watching the Shining on AMC…

I Really liked this movie. I even wrote a psychoanalytic deconstruction of the movie.

Gh0stpupp3t's Realm

I have seen it many times b4 but I like the movie still. Elena brought a container full of Tim Horton’s coffee bc most of us are coffee addicts LOL We did an abstract painting with Elena.  I already yakked about my bowling score. I am going to get my vita very soon, I can’t get it today bc of the Sabbath. Dave is Jewish like moi. It’s going to be either tomorrow or Sunday. 😦 I want this done soon.

I forgot how awesome this flick is. 🙂


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