Month: June 2016

The Duke and the Dauphin, Or, the Liars

It has been close to a week since I wrote last of my dear friend Huckleberry Finn; and, while the story is finished, there remain some details to go over in these posts–for example, the duke and the dauphin, the two false royalties who stow away on to the raft halfway through Chapter 19, and who Huck refers to as “rapscallions.”

They are the worst rapscallions, and during their stay the reader cannot help but hope they are pushed from the raft, never to be seen again.  Drifting from town to town the two knuckleheads devise these grand schemes–a memorable trip into the “State of Arkansaw” features the spectacularly dreadful Royal Nonesuch, the largest attempt to swindle townspeople out of their money, but which also, later, has the largest comeuppance on the duo, in terms of feathers and tar.

A quote by Huck–“All kings is mostly rapscallions, as fur as I can make out,” describes the nastiness of those acting liars; and is simultaneously a generalization of the nature of royalty interpreted by Huck.

He has yet to see genuine royalty, and so his inexperience leads to generalizing, based perhaps on perceptions and inferences gathered from books he has read, either the kings of the Bible, or literary rulers, such as Tschezrezade in Arabian Nights. 

Of course, generalizing– in this case, globally generalizing–is a component of Structuralism and Semiotics. This theory plays a role here because generalization and stereotyping are the cooperating components of this novel; they work majorly behind the scenes, especially in the racial prejudice against Jim and the otherwise unnecessary black servant; it is  also to be heavily noted in the later sections in which Huck and Tom argue over the details of jail breaks learned from fiction and life.

Equally significant in these adventures is the scene in Chapter 29 when the duke and the dauphin, accused of identity theft–what a phrase to hear in those times–are told to sign their false names on a slip of paper, so the jurors can compare the signatures of the real brothers and the fakers. At the time a judicial measure like so was only beginning to appear in courts around the country; evidence related to individual markings, like fingerprints, was a new presence in the field of law.

Talk about ahead of its time.

These, and separate segments with the duke and the dauphin, ranging from fraud to aggression, are defining points in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, more so perhaps than lesser sections of the book, being a veritable gold mine of hidden information.

Think daily,

A Southpaw



Edgar Allen Poe-The Gothic Politician?

Until a few days ago, violence in literature was as it seems to be–punches are thrown and arms are scratched…so is the natural way; because, as humans, we tend to fight over the silliest of trifles. Then I read the chapter More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You–Concerning Violence in this book, learning violence has it uses for story as well as historical purposes…

Until a few days ago, Edgar Allen Poe was but a fantastic Gothic writer with a knack for the detective story, and who penned some of the darkest tales to haunt literature. Then I read the chapter It’s All Political in this book, learning Poe wrote The Fall of the House of Usher and The Masque of the Red Death partially over social class issues in his country.

Violence is now more than ever an essential piece of storytelling.

Our world cannot function without violence, so too cannot literature; no conflict is no story.

Must violence must be dealt out by fists or guns? Can it not as well be a covert violence, such as the government blackmailing in Ender’s Game; or an open yet restrained violence like the public shaming of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter?

Violence does not always blood produce…though it is a common symptom.

Any Chuck Palhuniak book, specifically Fight Club, deals the classic type–good ol’ brawling and beating; but that, too, serves to illustrate the gritty tone of the novel and its psychological effects on the main character, a wrestler.

There are some exceptions–quite a few are classics, but even when no noses are broken or ankles twisted, an act of violence is committed, be it insult or embarrassment; for instance, in the book I am currently reading, Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, the focal point of the story is when the main character murders the old woman pawnbroker, the violence of which carries the character into a deepening self-hatred and guilt complex that    could be his destruction.

Murder, as all know, is the the sincerest form of violence; and this murder orchestrates a chorus line of other conflicts, each growing darker than its origin…

Poe is known for his dark violence–take a gander at The Pit and the Pendulum or The Black Cat if you disagree; but when reading the afore mentioned short stories one can also see influences of his personal politics–a disliking towards aristocracy. In The Fall of the House of Usher it is the siblings who represent the wealthy families, and the brokenness and ultimate decimation of their house is a message on the deterioration of material possessions; in The Masque of the Red Death the fortunate nobility thinking themselves untouchable by the sweeping plague are slaughtered in their leisure.

These examples do not mean Poe is a practicing politician, but, so says Foster, “…most works must engage with their own specific period in ways that can be called political.”

Frank Herbert, the acclaimed author of the Dune series, is, to me, painting a picture of the exceedingly religious state of the Middle East in his novels. In the first story the Fremen, a  wandering desert people, worship the main character Paul Arrakis, who they refer to as the prophet Muad Dib; and towards the end of the novel commit the first battle of their galactic jihad–this is how the war is termed in the book.

I could tell when he first mentioned jihad.

But the politics in Dune are like the color white in Moby-Dick–they enhance the experience of the tale, and do not detract from the story itself because of an overflowing symbolical or allegorical expression; and even in Dune the tones of religion act more so as a biopsy than a comparison.

Think daily, 

A Southpaw






Is There An Afterlife?–A Post-Hole Digging (#1)

I don’t belong here, we gotta move on dear escape from this afterlife…

Afterlife-Avenged Sevenfold

Consider the end of your life…

Of course, that does not sound appealing, and there is no reason why it should; but perhaps a speculation is due once a year.  Now, we are not here to discuss the end per say, but the arguable beginning; that stage of comfort, or discomfort, after death–the afterlife.

Is there one?

A question which has, for most of history, remained unanswered–for good or for bad. There are cultural references springing to your mind right now about this phase; most of them detailing its supposed inhabitants…spirits, more commonly known as ghosts…and then there are their rotten doppelgängers, the demons; but those are best left well alone.

In these outlets, the ghosts expressed are always separate–meaning no one interpretation can ever be the exact same as its prior. Consider Casper the Friendly Ghost, a white blur who speaks and acts out movements; he is not the same as the devouring spirit from Poltergeist, not even if comparing their both being ghosts. One chats, the other haunts. One appears, the other lurks…

I would like to tell you a story about the afterlife, to describe to you the vividness of these spirits and their baffling sense of wrong and right in a world in which they once lived and ate and slept…but, no evidence has presented itself.

Yes, no ghost has appeared to me, shadowy or solid, and it disappoints me for one reason–how can I ever know what is beyond this world without waiting for that eventual succumbing? How can I know if there is an actual afterlife?

I could listen to those who have seen it. I could watch videos of supposed sightings, and, like the mass, claim the kitchen cabinet creaked open by way of an otherworldly hand snapping out from its barrier and reaching so slightly for that brass handle.

But, also like the mass, I will come to forget those.

Somewhere out here, or perhaps out there, anywhere, is tangible evidence.

Somewhere out here, or perhaps out there, anywhere, is a true sighting.

Somewhere out here, or perhaps out there, anywhere, is an actual entity.

I want to believe–in an afterlife, as do so many others; but to do that I must cross this chasm of lousy falsities and satires to reach an honest telling of a story or a sighting near impossible to deny.

Already I believe there are ghosts, those are not too difficult to grasp once you’ve seen enough movies and read enough books…but the place from which they materialize is a tougher trial–one I hope has been completed by a lucky few who have seen a shred of the unnatural and the unbelievable.

Maybe they are real…maybe they have never been more than campfire stories, but I guarantee if they do exist, then they will remain hidden as long as we stand around waiting for a mystical sign in the sky, or our bedroom closet…they likely have far more creative ways of communication; and for an example of one simply watch Poltergeist.

Think daily,

 A Southpaw 

Farewell, Old Friend…For Now

At last, it appears, the incredible adventures of Huckleberry Finn have satisfyingly ended; at least satisfyingly so to a reader like myself, which is an oft easily accomplished feat.

In the week since I wrote the last post for this book, I have read from Chapter 11 to Chapter 30, otherwise known as the final chapter; and placed intelligently throughout that large gap are suspenseful conflicts and trickeries I would have never expected from a novel so compact.

So, I will continue to address those with several more posts; this is but a celebratory finale of the reading.

In Chapter 16, Jim and Huck are pleasantly drifting upon the river when a skiff with two armed men comes sailing beside them; they are searching for runaway “niggers”, and so ask Huck if he has seen one around recently. Beside himself with guilt at wanting to give up Jim as they coast into a nearby city, Huck creates an elaborate lie about a family affected with a bad case of “smallpox” sitting inside the raft; this results in the skiff men sailing hastily away, but warning the boy to, if he sees any runaways, to “get help and nab them.”

This is one of the first instances in which Huck openly defends Jim; in fact, he spends the rest of the chapter feeling overjoyed as Jim praises him for being his best friend, saying “…you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had; en you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now.”

Phrases like such are the reasons I enjoy reading about Jim so much.

Indicated also is a sampling of the critical theory Gender Studies and Queer Theory, which, for those who are new to the term, examines the cultural and social implications of differing races and gender and sexual orientation in reference to our massive, molding world; the largest example in this novel is Jim, the black runaway slave, and the other black servants they come across in their travels.Seldom a scenario prevalent in the South, and a controversial incident sure to stir frustration through those riverside cities and towns, is the white teen helping a slave escape notice of his captors, which is the main cause of distress in the story.

When Jim says Huck is his “only fren’,” he is telling the complete truth. Unlike white settlers, slaves were not typically social butterflies; actually, they were trapped in a tricky predicament similarly hurting the rising numbers of foreign immigrants into the States. It is only later in the story, when they meet up with rowdy Tom Sawyer, that he has a chance to make a few more connections and expound upon his freedom.

There is no small wonder this novel became controversial following its publication, as the union between Huck and Jim would have been seen as unnatural and perverse to the societal norm. Such a caring and loyal friendship is theirs it almost surprises me so few took a stand to change those norms.


Are Clowns Actually Scary Anymore?

So, last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the local circus with my family. It is the   exact same circus you have probably attended, regardless of whether you reside in the middle of Chicago or in the potato fields of Idaho–you know, Barnum and Bailey.

Anyways, while I munched on a bag full of cotton candy, and enjoyed the spectacle of the Circus Extreme–a new show where the performers travel around the world, from the ocean to a cheap remake of the set of West Side Story–I started to notice something…the performing clowns were not frightening.

Yes, these clowns were far from terrifying; in fact, not a single image of Pennywise sprang once to my imagination as I watched them go about their silly acts. They broke chairs over one another’s heads. They failed to form a human ladder and crumpled to the floor in a pile of rubber noses and giant flapping clown shoes. They even came up to the row of seats behind ours, and started engaging a couple kids in lively conversation–that, and they straightened my flimsy hat, an accessory with the cotton candy.

How, I repeatedly asked myself, are these clowns not as scary as the clowns of my younger days?

Everyone remembers their first clown, unfortunately being one of those memories  you can never erase, like watching your first horror movie. If you were as young as me, maybe that clown shook the very circus peanuts from your jittering hands, maybe you had to take a quick trip to the bathroom…it happens, no one is judging.

See, the first time I saw a clown was not at a circus–rather, I had the pleasure of visiting a haunted house, in the deep woods, as a six-year old child.

Some details become fuzzier as I age, so no longer can I recall why we, a rag-tag team of parents and their children, had a family outing at a haunted house; but the moment of seeing that terrible clown has remained throughout these long years.

A foolishly ignorant child, I had wandered from the group of military parents escorting us youthful innocents through this wooded horror, completely clueless of my isolation, when there came an eager whispering out of the dark grove of trees to my left–glancing over to the voice, I immediately spotted the grinning clown in a black and red rubber suit with a frilly fan round his white neck hunched behind a tree, smiling and cackling and beckoning with a gloved finger; and then he began to lurch out on to the matted grass and growled, “We all float here, Georgie…”

Okay, I lied about that last part, but my point is is that perhaps it is not the age at which you see a clown, or if the actor behind those gleaming red lips and starched white face paint is suffering from depression or happens to be a truly pleasant clown; no, perhaps it is about your situational status. If you are in a haunted forest, in which the only sign of life is yourself and a freaky clown who likes to jump out screaming from behind every other tree, then that could end up being a recurring nightmare for weeks; however, if instead you are attending a funny circus show with your family, where those clowns perform the most hilarious tricks to make you spew sticky soda out your nostrils, then there you have a possible cherished memory for years–actually, interpret that one as you will.

Here’s a test to prove my point: the next time you watch your favorite horror movie, double points if it is your first, notice the atmosphere of the scariest scene–is the killer hanging himself on a noose in a graveyard, or is he rolling around in the ball pit at Chuck E’ Cheese’s? Not only will you likely burst out laughing, but you will, hopefully, understand why some clowns are not as scary as they were back then.



Ice Brides and Enterprise Expendables…

Thomas Foster is at it again–in his book, How To Read Literature Like A Professor, he continues to describe the symbolic reasons for near incomprehensible features in novels and short stories; and recently in my reading, he has tackled the topic of rain and snow–the implications there can either be depression or isolation, so which sounds the better?– and the danger to comrades of the hero; they die terrible deaths to serve the story and its

In his chapter, It’s More Than Just Rain Or Snow, he explains why authors like using stormy and depressing weather to express key images and feelings in their story. Sometimes, he says, it is for atmosphere, which got me thinking about a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, perhaps his most popular, The Fall Of the House Of Usher, in which the House of Usher is besieged by dreadful fits of wind and rain throughout the duration of the narrator’s stay in the house with Rodrick Usher; of course, eventually culminating in the torrential destruction of the house as it descends into the pits of Hell.

It is more than just rain or snow…but can it sometimes mean much else than the darker shades of life?  Such as a recent read, The Glimmer of the Snow, by Algernon Blackwood, detailing the strange adventure of a lonely writer in a skiing town who meets a mysterious, yet beautiful, woman while he is skating on the ice rinks.

Turns out the woman is a snow god, or demon, depending on how the story is read and understood.

This the writer does not know, and until he finds out, near death, he views the woman as an unparalleled beauty; in fact, the snowy mountains and the wintry weather are described gorgeously as he searches frantically for that icy femme fatale. A different take on the perspective–though, it sets up the same statement, it is more than just rain or snow.

Then comes the Never Stand Next To the Hero bit, which, by far, is his wittiest piece. Comrades, to Foster, are no more than fodder for the racing plot train, or at least sacrifices to the story so long as the hero does not die in their place.

If you have ever seen an episode of Star Trek, then this should make total sense.

The crew members in the red shirts are always bait for invaders on the S.S Enterprise, simply because they are sacrifices for the of William Shatner’s long life. The same goes for a series like Harry Potter, in which there is a Defense Against the Dark Arts position that constantly needs rehirings, as the teacher seems to die or retire in all the books up to the Order of the Phoenix, simply because they tend to be threats to the titular character.

Honestly, I find the most truth here, and have decided thus far it is the most agreeable of his points. There are often deaths in a story, and those deaths are often centered towards the flat, or one-dimensional, characters in a story; the rare occurrences of round characters being killed off a sure sign the story is taking a major turn in a different direction, usually a rise in tension and conflict.

So far, halfway through the novel, I have learned a number of new ideas in the vast complex of literature; the voice and style is also especially witty, which makes for an ultimately enjoyable read whenever there is time.



That River Abolitionist, Huck Finn…

Huckleberry Finn–what else is there to say about that river rascal? Inadvertently, in his search to escape his drunken father’s clutches, he somehow ends up as a rebel against the racial limitations of his time; and inadvertently, in his wish to hideaway on an island and sail the Mississippi, he befriends a black runaway and they take up to sail off together; a union between blacks and whites despite the townspeople’s views.

To see those parallels in a novel so comprehensive is to see examples of Gender Studies and Queer Theory. Now, there are the colloquial references to consider, the methods of Jim’s speech specifically, which is constructed of Ebonics, a modern term for black language; for example, when Jim is speaking to Huckleberry in Chapter 8, his dialect is far cruder than an educated, articulate individual, as he uses “‘uz” or “wuz” instead of “was,” and “gwyne” rather than “going to.” His organization flows well though, and if one examines the pattern of his speech closely, then the focus of his story becomes easily understandable, with a few strange terms here and there that can simply be passed over as nonessential to the story.

The stronger route of study lies in the choice taken by Huckleberry to, when fleeing his family and friends on the raft in Chapter 8, tell only Jim of his not dying and his plans to sail away on the Mississippi. He has well-founded trust in Jim to share with him these wishful secrets, an odd decision in the late 1880s, a period when any blacks, as happened to Jim in Chapter Eleven, were lynched for performing badly in society and ousted from the general population.

Jim is by all means just another runaway, as is Huckleberry. They are one in the same in this novel; no racial ties separate their orders of life, and no bitter thoughts are expressed towards one another. A pleasant union is theirs, yet neither examines the social implications it challenges as they travel onwards.

Jim wants to escape slavery in New Orleans, while Huckleberry wants to escape his prim and proper lifestyle and his drunken father. Different motives, but an all encompassing feel of the need to flee their crumbling lives. It makes sense.

So too does Structuralism and Semiotics.

This novel expresses these lost souls wandering hopelessly on a raft along the stretching river as pieces to the larger social message of seeking out purpose, or a destiny, in other words, that in turn connects to the idea of Semiotics. It does so because like Huckleberry and Jim, all humans, regardless of race or gender, are always out there searching for a sense of belonging in a world that either appears to have forgotten them, or has left them isolated in a downright miserable lifestyle.

That is the summation of their journey–a journey, in fact, all can relate to, as it displays the instinctual key to human happiness, which, of course, is finding belonging, a placement, where one can be who they want without being thrust down from their individuality by naysayers. For Jim and the black slaves in the 1800s, the journey is mostly about seeking freedom from slavers. For Huckleberry and wayward children alike, it is finding an adventure away from the boundaries of society; a parallel there perhaps is Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger, which contributed to the youth movements of its modern times.        

A Look into How To Read Literature Like A Professor

In the non-fiction book, How To Read Literature Like A Professor, by Thomas C. Foster, an English professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, the author goes in depth into the aspects of truly reading a novel or a short story the way only an experienced veteran can–examining the minutest of details and events that, to an amateur reader, are no more than common happenings; then, having all those little intricacies figured out, producing an estimation about the specific part of that piece of literature.

So far, in my beginning reading, I have covered barely a quarter of his teachings, but in the few I have read, there is a knowledge in his words, and in the methods he uses to express his opinions, that is hard to deny. Personally, I enjoy his thoughts in the chapter, “When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare…” as they describe the influence the Bard continues to maintain posthumously upon the modern writers; Foster mentions Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a line taken from the Weird Sisters of Macbeth; and he explains the reason so many writers add a Shakespearean quote to their work, terming intertextuality, an effect created when a modern writer and a past writer’s works combine to produce a new telling of a story.

The primary focal point of Foster’s work, however, is his telling the reader there is only ever one story, and while originality can be present almost anywhere in literature,  the roots of storytelling as a practice over thousands of years continue to morph according to the differing characters and the conflicts that those characters face.

That it tallies off all these wonderful books is an achievement in itself…and one hard to find in most non-fictions.



The Thrills of Last Shift

If there are any good  underrated horror gems out there, then one of the scariest and most memorable is likely to be Last Shift, a rookie cop’s frightening night in an abandoned police station that is haunted by the vengeful souls of a Manson-like family; the tension is of a perfect tightness which will hold steadily throughout the film, which has an average running time of about 80 minutes. Still, time enough to frighten the audience.

The cast is small, with a few big names, such as Juliana Harkavy of AMC’s The Walking Dead, who plays the main character, a rookie officer by the name of Loren who is assigned by her commanding sergeant, Cohen, played by Hank Stone, to finish out the last shift in an old police station; as the new station is finished and everyone has moved into it in the past weeks. He shows her quickly around the emptied rooms–the holding cells and the evidence room are possibly the most important places in the film–and makes a specific point to say she will receive no emergency calls whatsoever while on shift, since the 911 number has been redirected to the new station. Then, having explained the basics, Cohen leaves the fledgling Officer Loren inside the station, where she is expected to remain from 10:00 to 4:00 of the next morning.

Except, when she finally settles at her desk after her first glance around the station, the phone begins to ring…and after that unusual occurrences start taking place within the station; and she fights to save her mind…

From then on the movie is based heavily on suspense and psychological terror, using some skillful tactics to hold the audience’s attention; tight camera angles are not overused and actually help to stimulate the stuffy, narrow surroundings, while also relating the fright Loren is experiencing to the viewer quite intensely. Music, as well, does not play too significant of a role in the film, and is more so in the background, supporting the eerie ambience of flickering lights and slamming chairs.

This film has its share of terrifying scenes, a few of which will likely stick with the viewer a couple of hours after the end credits. Now, it is perhaps not on the level of acclaim that such recent films as The Conjuring and the cult hit You’re Next have achieved in less amounts of time, but, one has to remember it does not appear to have the largest budget; although, the old station looks like a genuine haunt, and it will make people think twice about taking the last shift at any dilapidated business, especially one as lonely as a police station.

With a strong female lead who is as relatable as many other horror heroines, among them Laurie Strode and Ellen Ripley,and a promising set of villains that act out unexpectedly whenever given the chance, the movie Last Shift is a well-done psychological horror film that probably deserves more attention that it has received since its release date two years ago–seriously, go check it out; if you’re lucky and can buy it, then buy it, but also scan through Netflix for this hidden gem.

A Look Into the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Getting into Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an easy enough task–the tact with which Twain writes is unmatchable by current grammar methods, and the fluidity of his colloquial language is a benchmark in the history of the English language, even beyond the standards of Dickens and Hemingway. His use of “without” for the word “unless” is a casual example of his smooth prose; it brings to light to Structuralism and Semiotics in a natural method that has established a new form of individualism in grammar from then to now, and, by his frequent use of “black” colloquial language intermixed with a touch of Southern dialect, Twain is perhaps intentionally applying the theory of Gender Studies and Queer–an entire book about the union of a white boy and a black boy on the banks of the Mississippi certainly qualifies this claim, as well the use of terms like “nigger” and “negro.” The form is personalized, and without a single misconception, marking it immediately as the trademark witty style of Mark Twain.