Returning to my Autodidactic Ways

autodidactI recently wrote a manifesto on why I write a book blog. One of my plans was to write every day and I think I’m off to a great start but I can’t write about literature everyday; or can I? I look at this blog with fond memories and remember enjoying writing about my autodidactic exploration. I think it is about time to get back into writing this blog. I started studying, thinking I would learn a lot and have lots to write about.

For some reason university never really helped with blogging but I have been learning. I have to remind myself why I started blogging. When I started Knowledge Lost (wasn’t the original name) I planned to use this as a vessel for documenting my learning. I feel like I learn better if I try to explain everything in my own words. In fact it turns out that people’s retention rates increase if they try to teach others what they learned.

Not that I actually plan to use this site as a place to teach people; this is my dumping ground to sort out my thoughts. I like learning and I wish I got a decent education but then I realised this isn’t a fault with the teachers. This is a problem with the education system, the method of learning isn’t really effective to people. In fact only about 10% of people retain the information from a lecture teaching style.

I remember a wonderful book called The Elements by Ken Robinson, which talks about the need for educational reform. The book explores the concept of helping people to find their passion in life, if we can tap into this passion they will feel inspired to achieve at their highest levels. The scary thing about this book was discovering that I had an interest in education; obviously not enough to ever consider become a teacher.  I think I found the idea of finding my passion in life has pushed me to want to learn everything about the topics I’m interested in (Art History, Philosophy, Psychology, Literature and Sociology). I created the blog to help explore these topics and slowly write down everything I learn about these topics.

I kind of lost my way; I should be writing down what I’ve learnt so I can retain the knowledge. I’m working on understanding literary theory and plan to start reading Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams in an effort to understand his theories. I’m hoping this will help develop a better understanding of psychology and the literary theory psychoanalytic. So watch this space, I’m hoping this blog will return and be updated more often.

Ask.FM and The Spotlight Effect

If you follow me on twitter you might of seen me tweet;

o3bAsk.FM is a social network where people can ask each other questions. To feed everyone’s nasicism and give people a chance to talk about one of their favourite subjects, themselves. I joined because I thought it would be a good chance for people to get to know me better and well, it also looked fun. Deep down I thought it would be a place where people can get to know me better, ask questions and I would answer honestly. If I think about it the majority of the questions I’ve answered came from my wife (who already knows the answer), myself or just by rolling the dice and getting a random question. If I really think about it there is a small percentage of my twitter followers who might read those answers (probably a smaller percentage that I expect) and I doubt anyone reads those tweets and clicks on the link.

This is an Internet form of The Spotlight Effect; which is a psychological theory that theorises that people tend to overestimate the extent on which others notice. Like when you go out in public and think everyone is looking at you, or becoming self conscious about the way you’ve dressed or your hair. But in actual fact the amount of people that have noticed you or what is happening in your life is very little. Most people are too focused on their own world and you are just part of the backdrop. If you asked a stranger what you wore last time they saw you, they are unlikely to remember.

There are dozens of experiments to support the Spotlight Effect; we are the centre of our own universes and naturally think others are paying attention but in reality they are thinking the same thing. People don’t often think of themselves as biased but when it comes to ourselves and the Spotlight Effect we can’t help to have a blind spot. Even if we overestimate the amount of attention we receive, is there a way to condition ourselves to not be so self-conscious?

The Third Person Effect

psychologyMy wife and I were raised in in religious homes, she was raised Catholic and I come from a Pentecostal background. This often leads to some interesting debating on theology. While we are both accepting of each other’s theological views, both seem to think we are right. In psychology this is known as the Third Person Effect.

The hypothesis predicts that individuals overestimate the information they receive while generalise others. There is a misconception that the information an individual has is based on experience or fact and anyone that may disagree are falling for lies or propaganda from sources you may not know or trust. While in truth, most thinks that anyone who believes differently to themselves are gullible. That means most people believe they are far less susceptible to persuasion that they really are. We are smart, intelligent and thus not susceptible to these persuasions (more on the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the future).

We are affected by persuasion from the media, family, teachers, mentors and religious leaders. Yet we never want to believe that we are being persuaded, we don’t want to think that others influence our opinions. When we see something that may not align with our person ideals we can be defensive or automatically disregard the message as a lie or a persuasion for the weaker minded.

You’ve heard it all before; “I can see right through those lies” “People are such sheep or so stupid” and my favourite, the theosophy I want to live by; “I prefer to lead, not follow”. A lot of people think this, and with mass media and even con artists out there, so many of us must be delusional. We might even go to the extreme as to think we need to help them, stop them from falling into the trap. This could lead to censorship, banning or maybe something worse. The ‘them’ we often try to save could be anyone, children or gay and lesbians and so on.

From one extreme of a harmless debate on theology to censorship or brainwashing; these may not be connected but the whole idea of the Third Person Effect and persuasion is an interesting one. We want to think we are independent thinkers and see ourselves as having an open mind. When we disagree with someone do we automatically think they are wrong? We may not want to try and help this weak-minded people that are ignorant of ‘our’ truth but we might shake our head or feel sorry for them.

Points to think and comment on

  • We tend to think we are not like the people that we work with or went to school with or even live in the same location as us. We are unique but everyone else is thinking the same thing.
  • Mass media often use research and marketing to try and cut through the Third Person Effect.
  • How can we truly be open minded and independent thinkers?

The Significance of Naked Lunch

william_burroughs.rothschild_suitBefore I review William S. Burroughs seminal Naked Lunch I thought I would write about the historical significance of this extremely controversial novel. I know Adam from Roof Beam Reader did an interesting post on Burroughs but I just want to talk about why this one book is so important to literature. Naked Lunch was originally published by European publishers Olympia Press as The Naked Lunch in 1959 and it wasn’t until 1962 that the book ever published in America. The US obscenity laws prevented this book from publication in Burroughs’ homeland until then.

The book was then banned because of obscenity in Boston, which was eventually repealed. The trial of Naked Lunch was the last significant obscenity trial in American literature. The ban was repealed in 1966 as a result of the trial which found that while there are mentions of child murder and acts of paedophilia in this book, it  not considered obscenity but has some social value. Among the people instrumental in fighting the obscenity charges include Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer.

This was huge win for both free speech and the arts. While book banning and censorship is still a hot topic (especially in America); Naked Lunch was the last major obscenity trial involving literature. As another interesting fact, the title of this book was suggested by Jack Kerouac but apparently Allen Ginsberg misread the title on the manuscript which was originally Naked Lust. While not hugely significant to the history of this Beat novel, it helps with the overall understanding of where the name came from. Check out my post on the book Naked Lunch here.

Understanding Satire

juvenalI was reading a review the other day, when I saw them say “being a satire, I expected it to be funny” which, at the time, really annoyed me: I wanted to become that guy who replies with “I don’t think you get it”. The truth of the matter is I was someone that thought satire was a form of comedy for a very long time too. I think it wasn’t until someone called 1984 a satirical novel did I actually think “hang on, maybe I need to look up this word”. So I thought instead maybe this could make a good blog post.

First of all, while satire can be funny, humour is not the essential component. The main purpose of satire (in a literary sense) is to offer a constructive social criticism or to shame society into improving. Using wit, irony and sometimes sarcasm to put a spotlight on issues the author feels need to be looked at; normally social, political or religion topics. This is only a brief explanation of my thoughts on satire; I might have missed something because it is a lot more complex than this anyway.

Satirical literature is often divided into two different categories as well; Horatian and Juvenalian (although not mutually exclusive). Horatian satire looks at some social vice through playful, light-hearted humour or wit. Named after the Roman satirist Horace, this form of satire uses wit, exaggeration and self deprecation to indentify stupidity (rather than major issues) within modern society. This is the type of satire more people think of when they think about satirical books; examples of this type of satire within literature can include Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, The Giver by Lois Lowry and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.

There is another form of satire named after Roman satirist Juvenal; this is the one that includes books like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Brand New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell. Juvenalian satire addresses social evil through scorn, fury and ridicule. This form of satire doesn’t often involve humour (though a book like Catch 22 by Joseph Heller would be included) but more a pessimistic, ironic or sarcastic nature towards moral and social indignation.

So, as you can see, there are two very different types of satire within literature, there is a lot more to look at regarding these types of novels. My hope with this post is that people understand the difference between Horatian and Juvenalian satire. Not only should we remember that satire is not always funny but we need to remember that it is not an indication of the satirist persona. Criticising Mark Twain as racist and calling Huckleberry Finn offensive is to miss the point completely. Jonathan Swift was not really suggesting that Ireland can ease their economical troubles by selling their children as food for the rich in A Modest Proposal (1729) and if you read it any other way what would you think of the author? He does say children are a delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; do you really think Swift was proposing cannibalism and infanticide?

I’m a big fan of satire, there are times where it is in bad taste or misses the mark but this is not the fault of the literary genre but the delivery of the message. I personally prefer Juvenalian satire in my literature but when it comes to movies and TV I think maybe a combination of both. I would really love to hear other people’s thoughts on satire; am I missing anything? Is there anything you feel needs to be added? Or what novels do you like in both Horatian and Juvenalian satire.

House of Leaves: An Art Piece

I picked up the book House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski as part of the Literary Exploration book club (check out my review) and while it is a weird postmodern novel, I think it is art more than literature. So I wanted to talk about my thoughts on this book as art. First of all Postmodern is a weird concept that I don’t fully understand; surrealism makes more sense to me. So I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into.

The book starts off like a normal book; in the sense that it’s formatted normally and you just read down the page. But then it turns into something weird. Different fonts, different coloured writing, upside down and even backwards writing spread out all over the page. It’s at this point where you have no idea how to read it.

Just looking over the book before I even started reading it, I got the sense that this was insanity written on the page, with the multiple voices represented in different typesets. But there is more on the page. The word house is represented in a blue font; even haus and maison show up in blue as well. This was a weird experience for me in the book, my brain wanted to tell me it was black writing so sometimes my eyes played tricks on me with that one word.

Mark Z. Danielewski’s sister, Anne Danielewski, known professionally as Poe wrote an album called Haunted which is meant to accompany this book. While I didn’t read the book while listening to the album, it gives this whole experience a multimedia experience. It is an interesting experience reading excerpts and hearing songs with similar themes. I believe they both toured together for a book tour.

As a piece of literature, I raged, but if I look at this book as art, there really is something unique about this book. Apart from making me pretentious for reading it and having it on my book shelf, this book has a very strong visual component to it. It is what I respect the most from this book. What do others think of this book? Literature or Art?

Question: What made you start studying again?

When I was in school I wasn’t interested in studying and I didn’t do well in school. I didn’t really have much interest in anything, except computers and music. It wasn’t until 2009 when I discovered my mind crush Craig Schuftan did I really start reading and wanting to learn. I started Knowledge Lost because I found my passion and I wanted to write what I’d learned while learning. I know I don’t write on that blog as much as I should but I still love it and want to keep it there to write anything that I learn. When I started Literary Exploration (the blog) it was because in my love for learning I found a love of literature and I wanted a place to document my literary journey without overcrowding Knowledge Lost with book rants. The idea was to have Knowledge Lost to be educational and Literary Exploration to be about literature.

I decided at the beginning of the year that while I was having fun being an autodidact, I wanted to learn more and enrolled in university. I’ve never been to a higher learning facility to learn something I was passionate about but I wanted to explore my passion and hopefully one day land a job in a field relevant to it. I decided a Bachelor of Arts would be a good place to start. It will give me a good overview of the topics I’m interested in and also I can get a degree in English Literature.

I’ve discovered that my love for learning and the arts has been growing and I (not so) secretly want to get so many degrees it’s not funny. While I will focus on the English Literature degree, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to take some classes in other discipline to get an idea about what they are like. Now I’m only doing this part time while working full time which is a shame because at my rate the first degree will take me about ten to twelve years. But if I had the time I would want to dive into some of these disciplines as well (not for a full degree but to have some more information about them);

  • Art History
  • Criminology
  • Journalism
  • New Media Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Screen Studies
  • Sociology

And the list will probably expand. I know my love for literature will increase with my studies but I wanted to also share my passion of learning and the humanities with you as well. I hope to experience a taste in all these subjects and who knows, maybe one day I might get a chance to share about them over at Knowledge Lost.

I would love people to share about their passions and experiences with studying their passion in the comments below.

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