Time for some Cultural Studies

ms marvelWhile writing a review for Ms. Marvel: No Normal I came to the burning realisation that I don’t know how to review art work. As a result of this realisation, I had to leave out any thoughts of the art. This got me thinking, I have a book blog that has been a great tool for developing my skills in reviewing and talking about literature. This blog sadly still gets neglected a little too much but I think I can make use of it for developing my skills.

Knowledge Lost was created to allow me to talk about what I have learnt and I can apply them into a blog post. So I have to wonder why I am not trying to socially critique all things pop-culture. Thanks to two recent books I’m starting to see issues relating to feminism (The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss) and sexuality (Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith) in everything I see. I’ve decided to practice these skills and start critiquing movies, TV shows and obviously art. The goal is to improve my writing skills in these areas and gives me an excuse to look more into pop-culture.

I have plans to talk about a few topics already, so I’m hoping that this blog is going to be neglected less. If you read my book blog you may have seen my manifesto where I have decided to write every day. So stay turned, it might not be as educational as before but this blog is now my new playground to practice and develop my abilities. I think the term for this is cultural studies, it is very similar to literary criticism but it applies to all things related to pop-culture.

Write 750 Words Every Day

writeRecently I have been trying to build a habit of writing every day. This was in the hopes to build good writing habits and improve my writing abilities. I decided to use a site called 750 words to help develop this habit. Basically the site sends me a reminder every day to write 750 words. It is a great little site, I’ve been using it to write drafts for my future blog posts and get down my blogging ideas as I go. I have written a lot of thoughts about the books I’ve been reading as I go along and I’ve noticed it has already started to have a positive effect on my blogging.

Not only have I got a record of my thoughts throughout the novel, it has helped me connect those thoughts I tend to forget about with a much larger idea. I’ve been notoriously bad at note taking and keeping a record of what I have thought of a book while reading but this has been a huge help. Not only have I forced myself to sit down and write about books but also since I need to make 750 words a day I often write more drafts and I’m hoping that shows through in my blogging.

One of the negatives I have notice about forcing myself to write is I am starting to get anxious about my writing. The other day I found myself getting upset with my wife for cutting into my writing time. I try to set a time to write every day after work and sometimes I finish it before she gets home but not all the time. My finger muscles are starting to hurt, I thought I typed enough as it is but it turns out that maybe I haven’t been and at times I have to type through the pain. Who knew that fingers had so many muscles that could hurt?

There is one really cool thing about the 750 words site that I find really cool and that is the stats. The site has put together so much information; I didn’t even know I needed that much detail but it has been interesting to see what it says. It analyses the text via a few different systems; a Regressive Imagery Dictionary (for the emotions), and a Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count system. I’m not sure what that means but it is interesting to look at the statistics it provides.

Currently I am on a 21 day streak and this post will go towards the 22nd day. I’ve averaged around 1200 words a day and it takes me about 47 minutes to complete 750 words. This is only a small glimpse of the data it gives you; it even has a daily breakdown. Some of the data is a little strange; I’m still trying to work out how I got a PG rating for sexual content from my review on The Secret Garden. I could have mentioned the secret garden being a metaphor for her sexuality but I don’t think I went down that road in that review. This post was actually rated PG for sexual content and violence if that makes any sense. It even tends to think I’m an extrovert in my writing, mostly feeling self-important and talking about leisure activities (I’m guessing that is books).

I am not sure how the data would help but it does provide me with some entertainment. I am more excited about the 21-day streak, I hope I continue to develop some positive writing habits and improve. Let me know if you have any suggestions that might help me improve as a writer and develop a good writing routine. Lastly I have to mention that 750 words is free to try for thirty days, might be enough to get you into a good habit. I’m not sure if I’m going to pay the $5 a month to keep my 750 words account but I think the positive impact it has had in my writing is pushing me towards continuing.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 834 other followers