Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wiesel's "Night"

The memoir Night was important to both the author, Elie Wiesel, and the world because Wiesel was able to relate his experiences to the rest of the world, while simultaneously giving the world a view of the Holocaust from the inside.  He was very brave to write down his experiences so soon after they occurred, when so many would have tried to stay as far away from anything that may remind them of it. He also may have been able to contemplate his religious confusion by working it out on paper, writing down what he was feeling at the time and trying to make sense of it all.
On page 51, he first begins to question God when people started saying the Kaddish. He writes, “For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty… chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?” He clarifies his loss of faith on page 63 when he writes, “I was not denying His existence, but I doubted His absolute justice.” Elie continues to question God and His works throughout the rest of the memoir in many paragraphs of questions and accusations. He remains consistent from the beginning after he realized his soul had been burned away. He recognizes God, but no longer trusts in him or prays to him except in times of extreme fear or moments close to death. I’m not sure if he reached any place of comfort within himself after writing his stories and defining his beliefs, but he probably felt relief after getting his story out to the world. This story, in general, is very similar to that of millions of other captives in the Holocaust, and by writing his, he was partially writing theirs, especially because many stories were lost with the people as they died.
The world has a way of denying violence while embracing it. Many still deny that the Holocaust ever happened. Stories like Wiesel’s provide historical and personal evidence about the atrocities that so many experienced. For example, he lists off a string of events in the beginning of the book. They range from the German bombings, news from the Russian front, a Budapest radio announcing that the Fascist party had seized power, German troops entering Hungary by its government’s approval, the expulsion of foreign Jews from Sighet (where Wiesel lived), Germans arresting leaders of the Jewish community, the creation of ghettos, and the law of the yellow star. On page 28, he writes, “The Germans were already in our town, the Fascists were already in power, the verdict was already out—and the Jews of Sighet were still smiling.” This passage reveals that despite such events that were against the Jewish community, the people were still hopeful and clinging to any small amount of good news, such as the Russian front advancing. It seemed that, in this particular town, the community chose to deny the meaning of events until they were crossing the gates of Auschwitz. Wiesel relived every one of these events, including many others, to bring truth to the world, perhaps for the world to learn, always remember, and never repeat what had happened. It’s a shame that such acts of genocide (minus the camps) continue to happen, and that even America was guilty of concentration camps for the Japanese, though the conditions weren’t nearly as horrific.  
I think if this book was written as a historical account instead of a memoir, it wouldn’t hit home as much as it does. Because it’s told from a personal perspective, displaying how one’s life could be affected by the decisions made during a war, people can imagine themselves in the same situation, or their family or friends. They can ask themselves what decisions they would have made, see if they’d have lived through it or not. This imagination placed upon the story increases its impact and horror. If it was just a historical account, the reader encounters extreme distance of time and miles. The events of the Holocaust are of little consequence unless the reader is Jewish, gypsy, a little person, or homosexual. It’s just an event in the past. But with a personal account, it becomes personal for the reader.  
Night is filled with elements of literary style. He uses scope and intent, larger truth, voice, and style. One could argue that it also has shape and structure because of specific incidents chosen to portray the Holocaust. The readers must realize that every day in the concentration camps were probably the same, and that there would be only a few moments of change throughout the general arc of his time there. But even those events are rather general. As for the others, the memoir spans his experiences with the Holocaust, an event that affected millions of lives, if not much more. It’s an event that maintains importance today because the world continues to witness acts of genocide, though the “Never forget” promise seems to have ensured that the acts of genocide are not committed in concentration camp-like environments. Night is written like an adult reminiscing about the past, but limited to the perspective of Wiesel’s teenaged self. There are few moments of foreshadowing included wherein the adult Wiesel makes a comment, but it’s mostly told in the voice and perspective of a teenager who didn’t and couldn’t know what was really happening around him or what was to come. This places the reader inside Wiesel’s emotions at the time, taking the reader for a ride that makes him or her question everything, as Wiesel had done as well. Wiesel writes about the banality of evil with everyday people causing harm or ignoring events around them, he agonizes over his religion in the face of torture and abandonment, and he provides commentary on the Holocaust and the war itself.
                I think in the case of Wiesel, his witnessing of painful events was very much relevant to his memoir. Otherwise readers could argue, “How did you know certain specific events happened to specific people? You weren’t there. You didn’t experience them for yourself.” It establishes trust between Wiesel and the reader to know what he was there and had, in fact, gone through the torture and selection and managed to survive. If not, the level of trust diminishes greatly and creates a distance between the reader and the event instead of placing us inside the narrator as he experiences everything. But Wiesel’s writing is concise and he doesn’t dwell or dawdle on a subject. This style ensures that his writing isn’t overemotional.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thoreau's "Walden"

I don’t think Walden can be considered a memoir. It’s more a work on nonfiction because he writes about his time at Walden, as opposed to his life up until that point.  He does mention his life beforehand, the life he came from and what he’s giving up in order to live a life of simplicity. But those instances are rare, and most of the chapters in Walden talk about his observations and how he managed to survive through the days, nights, and seasons. He also includes his use of husbandry—which I learned about through the piece—carpentry when describing how he built his house/cabin, and mathematics when describing how he learned the varying depths of the pond.

Despite this, we can still learn pieces of information about Thoreau. He directly comments about his thoughts, actions, and beliefs. But those are more personal assertions that a reader cannot be sure are true or false. The reader can more accurately determine Thoreau’s character through his choices and observations, and the nature of his descriptions.  One such description in “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” is about the pond on a rainy day. He writes, “This small lake was of most value as a neighbor in the intervals of a gentle rain storm in August, when, both air and water being perfectly still, but the sky overcast, mid-afternoon had all the serenity of evening, and the wood-thrush sang around, and was heard from shore to shore.”

Here, we see that he considers the lake a living object by referring to it as his neighbor. He also seems to appreciate not only its beauty, but a duality of existence. He finds a moment in the day and relates it to night, somehow straddling the boundaries like twilight and living in both realities at once. If I remember transcendentalism correctly, this duality of existence is present in the philosophy. It teaches to live in and as both, any extreme or dichotomy, and use it to transcend the world. But not only that, the divine can be found in nature. Thoreau’s reverent descriptions of the nature around him reveal how he sees the divine in it. Walden contains many such descriptions, and indeed the whole experience began to connect with nature and live not only within it, but alongside it in a way that allows both to survive. He introduces a form of sustainability by using only what he needs, in addition to replanting and trying to preserve as much as possible. He also writes about being awake, and uses the metaphor of morning to explain it, but this idea slips through in his descriptions of evening and night. While he wants to be aware even at night, he wants to also be fully immersed in the world around him. Recognizing the value and beauty of evening hours and the effect rain has on his environment, he’s very much aware.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eggers's excerpt of "A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius"

When I took Writing for Electronic Media and Film at SRU, we covered many lesson plans for writing in different styles, like vlogs and moving poetry and such. The point of the whole class (the way that particular professor taught it) was that we didn’t have to stick to the conventional methods of words on a page or screen in order to tell a story. Eggers using graphs, lists, play scripts and anything else he could think of is just another way to convey the same information. It’s the same as writing everything out, and the messages still get across. It also provides the reader with something else to look at that might not require as much thinking, or would stimulate other portions of our brains so we don’t feel like we’re looking at monotonous bits of information and continuous text blocks. This method is unique and I think works well.

The fact that he creates some of the scenes is okay. As we saw in the assigned excerpt, he created a scene by writing it as a script. The conversations probably happened many times, and even if those exact words didn’t happen, they still truthfully represented the other conversations. Writers of memoir will take whatever point in their lives they’re trying to write, and condense it into a proper narration. The dialogue there may not be exactly the same, but it matches the technique Eggers used of making it fit the scene and represent what happened. The only difference is that one was within narration, and one was without it.

Eggers’s method shows us that it doesn’t matter what memoir method writers choose, we can still arrive to the same conclusions and enlightenments. All it takes is remembering, writing, reading, reflecting and making connections—it doesn’t matter what format the writing takes. In Eggers’s case, it did take a bit of pondering to realize why he used those differing techniques, but that only resulted in further enlightenment when the rest of the pieces started fitting together. If I were writing a memoir and came upon a discussion or even that happened many times, I would definitely consider using techniques like recipes and play scripts or graphs, if they were relevant. Relevance and easy readability are all that matters.  

Monday, November 1, 2010

Conroy's "Stop-Time"

Sorry about being a bit late in posting this...

Conroy's use of the jazz stop-time technique is evident in his chapters when he creates a different section by adding a space between the paragraphs. He then switches from past tense to present tense, bringing the reader from an adult’s reflection to a child’s experience. It took a bit of getting used to because it caused the entire chapter, much less the entire book, to switch paces. In chapter two, there’s a significant tense and story change when Conroy shifts from talking about Jean to Tobey and then back to Jean again. He explains Jean’s background in order to explain why Jean is the way he is. To do this, Conroy also explains Jean’s siblings to show how he worried about Jean’s unstable mentality, because siblings are a good indication of what Jean could become.

On page 32, Conroy shifts from past tense while explaining Jean’s string of temporary jobs, to present tense about waking up on Victor’s Jean’s brother, couch. There is a sense of rising and falling action when Conroy wakes up to discover Victor had come in the living room to his desk. Conroy knew not to move or let on that he was awake because a sort of sixth sense had warned him of danger. The scene is tense as he waits to see what Victor was going to do. When Victor screams and falls to the floor, Conroy leaps from the couch and runs outside, only to crash into a parked car and pass out, seeing stars swirl around him like in a cartoon. The tension provides the rising and falling action with the scene starting with Conroy waking up, the tension mounting as he registers the danger and waits to see what happens, and then falling action when he reaches the climax of leaping from the couch and ending by passing out. It begins and ends by him being unconscious, bringing the scene full circle. After this, the narration returns to past tense as he describes how Jean leeched from his and Alison’s child support checks.

In the scene, Conroy describes his emotions in order to increase tension and uneasiness. He writes, “Uneasiness creeps forward from the back of my head, waking me with a silent danger signal. Don’t move! Don’t make a sound!”He then increases the uneasiness by describing what was happening to Victor and his scream before Conroy runs from the couch and out of the house while only in his underwear. The impact of the entire scene, though, wasn’t his realization of Jean’s family being crazy. He realized that the entire world was crazy because of his collision with the parked car. That moment connected the readers, and thus the world, to a situation that could have been but a singular moment otherwise.

I think that because of the madness Conroy grew up in, he only knew how to function when the world was crazy. In the case of framing his story with his car crash, the reader sees that he is ecstatic when the car loses control and he careens into a fountain. It was a moment where everything was thrown out of his control and he felt alive, even though he also thought he was about to die. His relaxation before the car hits the fountain was taught to him while growing up. When things go crazy, just go with it. “Let it come.” If such uncontrollable craziness is all he’s ever known, then he would welcome it. My mentor wanted me to read “Writing Short Stories” by Flanner O’Connor. She states that a story is driven by meaning. That telling a story is the only way to make someone else understand something. In this case, I think that the entire narration between the prologue and the epilogue is a means of describing his reaction to that one car wreck.