Synthesizing Stories

In Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Susan Sontag’s On Photography, and Jorge Borges’ “The Circular Ruins”, the theme of the manipulation of reality is extremely prevalent. Barthes, Sontag and Borges divulge in their writings that reality is truly subjective. Specifically, Sontag and Barthes use photographs to show a manipulation of reality, while Borges’s master dreamer uncovers how dreams play a role in our view of reality.  

Reality is subjective, because it can be manipulated by either the photographer or the subject to represent different perspectives. Most people view photography as a tool to “furnish evidence” (Sontag). However, Sontag argues in her piece “On Photography” that “[e]ven when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience.” Although photographers might not even be aware of their manipulation, the whole point of their work is to send a message. Therefore, interpretation and personal style is inevitable in a photograph. This makes it impossible to achieve an objective reality through photographs.

Sontag also encapsulates the essential role of the photographer in the manipulation of the photographer’s subject and the manipulation of reality when she describes how photographers “would take dozens of frontal pictures of one of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied that they had gotten just the right look on film… that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry.” (Sontag). This shows how the “reality” that some people think photography captures isn’t the reality for everyone. Everything is an interpretation. Photography can’t be an exact snippet of reality when the subject of the picture is putting on an act.

Furthermore, in Camera Lucida, Barthes describes how subjects often pose for the camera, making it impossible for the photograph to be a true glimpse into reality because the subject is not portraying their true, candid self. For example, it could be a reality that the subject of a photograph is smiling; however, if a person sees that picture and assumes the subject is happy, that is their interpretation of the reality. One might look at the picture of the subject posing and assume one reality, when it is really another. Because of this, reality is determined by one’s perspective and is therefore subjective. Barthes also describes how the subject being photographed feels that they are “neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object”. According to the narrator, being photographed makes one feel as though they are no longer full of life but merely an object under another’s control. The idea of a subject becoming an object plays with reality as well because it is difficult to know the reality of the person being photographed: are they a subject or an object? If photography transforms a subject into an object, it is impossible that they reflect an objective reality.

Additionally, reality is subjective because dreams can offer multiple realities through multiple possible perspectives. This is exemplified through Borges’ main character in his story “The Circular Ruins”. At first, the reader thinks that the main man is real and the son is fake. However, the reader is then told that the master dreamer himself is dreamt up. Certainly one reality is that the man is real, but another opposing reality is that he is just a dream. Therefore, there are multiple realities depending on one’s interpretation and perspective. This thus demonstrates how reality is subjective and there is not one objective reality. Moreover, the man’s dreams are a reality to him, but might not be for everyone. For example, Borges writes that “[h]e wanted to dream him completely, in painstaking detail, and impose him upon reality.” The phrase “impose him on reality” exposes the apparent manipulation of reality related to this man’s dreams. If the dreaming man wants to impose something on reality, and believes he is capable of doing so, then the reality is subjective to this man’s interpretation. Borges, throughout his writing, asks the reader to question the relationship between dreams and reality and whether or not there is some overlap between the two. This is clear because the author is constantly using the word “real”: “insert him into the real world”, “accustomed the youth to reality”, “that his unreal son”. Perhaps the man doesn’t think the son is “real”, but others perceive him as real. Borges exposes a certain truth about reality: that reality can only be objective if everyone agrees on it and sees the same thing. However, with dreams, one reality can not be agreed on and is therefore subjective. Thus, the element of dreams in Borges’ The Circular Ruins exhibits a manner in which reality is subjective to one’s interpretation and perspective, and how reality is never one objective truth.

The works of authors Barthes, Sontag, and Borges reveal that reality is subjective, and one can see that through the element of photography in On Photography and Camera Lucida as well as through the element of dreams in The Circular Ruins. There is never one truth or reality; one makes one’s own reality and truth through their personalized interpretation of events. Everyone has a natural bias and interpretation, therefore making it impossible to see an objective reality. And really, since no one can see it, does an objective really even exist at all? url sontag_photography004 {3C98DCDA-B3DA-48D8-9BD9-B458C5ACAE6A}Img400

Kafka’s (Hunger) Artist

In Kafka’s story “A Hunger Artist” an omniscient narrator relates the story of a professional faster/ hunger artist, and this man’s struggle with the pressures that being an artist entails. Kafka’s story can be interpreted as a parable about being an artist because it captures both how rewarding practicing an art can be as well as an artist’s struggle with being misunderstood.

The character of the hunger artist exposes that being an artist is an extremely rewarding profession because of the recognition that you can receive. Kafka writes, “He was quite happy at the prospect of spending a sleepless night with such watchers; he was ready to exchange jokes with them…” Although the hunger artist is starving in his cage, he still wants to interact with others because he loves his art. It pleases him to know that people are watching because he, as an artist, desires recognition. There are many reasons why artists create their works, but the main reasons seem to be to attempt to satisfy themselves as well as to receive recognition from others. The hunger artist has put so much time and effort into his art that it lifts his spirits to know that other people appreciate his work. This therefore encapsulates the rewarding feeling that practicing art and receiving recognition for it can be and demonstrates the relationship between this story and artistry.

On the other hand, artists are never fully satisfied with their work and are always striving toward a non-existent perfection. This chronic dissatisfaction tends to isolate them from the general public, thus representing an artist’s struggle with being misunderstood. This is clear at the end of the story when the hunger artist explains that the reason he fasts is because he never found any “food” that he liked, and if he had he would have stuffed his face like everyone else. The “food” that the hunger artist is referring to is self-satisfaction. As an artist, he is never fully satisfied with himself or his art. Non-artists are not quite as obsessed with this idea of perfection and are therefore capable of being satisfied with themselves. Because these people find the “food” that they like, they do not understand the motives behind why the hunger artist does what he does. However, the artist isn’t like that, so he distinguishes himself from the others which in turn makes him feel more misunderstood.

Thus, it is clear that Kafka’s story is in fact a parable for being an artist. Kafka chose to demonstrate the successes and struggles of an artist with the example of fasting, because it is somewhat foreign to other cultures where fasting is not practiced as an art. This therefore makes the reader think more about how dynamic art really is. Kafka effortlessly relates the art of hunger to art in general. 193

Uncovering curiosity in Wideman’s “Stories”

Wideman’s short story “Stories” discusses curiosity on multiple levels both in content and in structure. Wideman does this by revealing curiosity from multiple perspectives.  The main indicator of Wideman dealing with curiosity is the sheer number of questions in the passage. When one is curious, that person tends to ask questions. While it is hard to parse out the questions because they are not punctuated with question marks, they are in fact inquiries. One can tell they are questions because the sentence structure includes question words such as  “why” and “how” and “if”. There are over 20 questions in this short passage. Through these questions, the passage expresses a multi-layered example of curiosity. The first layer is the narrator’s curiosity of the man walking in the rain eating a banana, exemplified by the many questions the narrator has about this man in the rain. Then, there is the layer of the reader, who wonders both why there are all these questions, without question marks, and why they are centered around something that is seemingly quite ordinary.

The end of the passage also reveals multiple layers of curiosity. When the narrator mentions that all his stories would be sad unless he was with a mysterious “you”, the reader begins to wonder. The reader might be curious as to if this is a love story, or just who the “you” is that the narrator is talking about and why is the narrator isn’t with this person.

Wideman is connecting his writing to the theme of seeing and reality in addition to curiosity, apparent when the reader does not know if the narrator is describing reality or falsehood. This reveals yet another layer of curiosity: the curiosity that the reader has when they wonder if the situation they are reading about is reality or not. For example, the reader might be curious if there is actually a man walking in the rain eating a banana or if it is a mere vision or a representation of something greater. It could even be a delusion or a hallucination. Through multiple pieces of writing structure as well as the content of the passage, Wideman deals with a multi-layered curiosity expressed through multiple perspectives.

TED Talk takedown

  1. The example of the wristwatch: In Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk, “Learning Revolution”, Robinson made the observation that mainly only people over 25 wear wristwatches and that most people under that age don’t. The main reason for that, he explains, is that people over the age of 25 grew up needing to wear a wristwatch to tell the time and those younger most likely use/used mobile phones. People who used to need to wear wristwatches still do, because they are used to it. Robinson uses this example to relate that way of thinking to the current school system. The people running the school system are so set in their ways that they won’t change what they are used to or change something that used to work in the past but no longer works. This is an issue, because the current school system has flaws that need to be addressed and changed.
  2. The comparison of our educational model to a fast food model: Robinson compares our educational model to a fast food model because it is an industry and thus everything is standardized. The fast food model and our educational model both try to produce things that are exactly the same with no individuality whatsoever. However, Robinson believes this is a problem. Because our educational model is like a fast food model, the school system is taking away students individuality and trying to form them into something they are not. He believes the school system should be more like an agricultural system, meaning that you won’t know exactly how every single thing turns out and everything will be slightly different, but all you can do is create the conditions under which children will succeed.
  3. The example of his wife writing a novel: Robinson explains how his wife is writing a novel currently; she will often disappear for hours and not even realize how long she has been working on the book. He claims that when you are passionate about something, an hour feels like 5 minutes, but when you are not interested in something, 5 minutes can feel like an hour. With this example, Robinson is trying to explain that the school system should be teaching and encouraging kids to do something with their life that they are passionate about and put less pressure on making sure kids go to college or pursue a professional career. The current school system puts this kind of pressure on students everyday, and Robinson believes that needs to change.

Katy’s version of A Man Walking in the Rain Eating a Banana

A man was simply a man. He was once happy. Once. Now all the man sees is a gray rain covered world. His existence merely consists of going to work, coming home and some occasional trips to a local grocery store.

A banana was simply a banana. Grown in Costa Rica, matured in the fields, and then cut and sent to the unknown continent of North America. After a journey via trucks, the banana ended up in a local grocery store.

The man sees the banana in the grocery store, two independent beings meeting for the first time. One another not knowing the tremendous impact they have made on the world by such an act, the man and the banana choose each other. And the gray rainy day enveloped them as the man and the banana commenced their journey together. A man walking in the rain eating a banana.

One might read this and question the importance of a man walking in the rain eating a banana. Another might read this and begin to question their entire existence, influenced by the complicated interaction of this unknown man and this simple banana. There is no concrete way of knowing which interpretation is correct or even if interpretations are even capable of being correct. After all, a concrete meaning or definition goes against the very purpose of an interpretation, seemingly making it impossible for an interpretation to be measured by right or wrong.

One thing is certain. There is indeed a man walking in the rain eating a banana.

Or is there?

Click here to read the original short story.

Katy’s Introduction

Hi, my name is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I live on Katy’s bookshelf in her bedroom. She has had me for about 7 years now. I am not in as good shape as I was when she first got me, but I still have an amazing story tucked between my pages. Katy loves to read me every once in awhile which amazes me because I would think she’d get tired of me after awhile. She also likes to eat when she reads me. Sometimes she gets crumbs on my pages, but I forgive her. Katy and her sister Rosa and her parents sometimes leave for periods of time. I don’t like it so much, first because I get lonely, and second because those pets of hers always go crazy when they leave! I am worried they will ruin my pages. But overall, I think Katy makes sure I have a pretty good life. imgres