Dystopian Society – Living the dream?

Continuing on from the last thread that concerned The Hunger Games– one of the latest novels to arise from this renewed interest in dystopian societies’. I discovered this table (Borrowed from Book Club Babe’s post on the same topic) which plots the rise of the dystopian novel itself throughout the years in all its forms.It’s very interesting to note that the idea of ‘dystopian literature’ is not a new thing, and is hardly limited to recent additions like ‘The Hunger Games’ as popular as they might be – think of books such as the The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood, 1984 by George Orwell and Lord of the Flies by William Golding, all written much earlier but based from the same sort of viewpoint – all varying descriptions of ‘nightmare’ societies’ if you will. Ultimately all dystopian novels have one thing in common, they are used as a sort of metric system for representing social, cultural and universal fears of the times they were produced in as is evident within this chart:-

‘The Hunger Games’ is an example of being ‘dystopian’ in the sense that it is defined by the fears and processes of what we are witnessing in our lives today. As the chart states – there is an emphasis on the vapidity of pop culture – most important within the book is the idea of the danger of reality television. The games are broadcast as a sort of reality show – broadcast straight into people’s living rooms (if they can afford a tv). Perhaps Collins’ is trying to say that like the people who live in the Capital and find the Hunger Games a sort of macabre entertainment perhaps we too in our lives are being desensitized in the same way. We are bombarded by so many images on a daily basis, sometimes it is hard to care about the trials and tribulations of other human beings around the globe. Perhaps the most important question is; why is the Dystopian novel such a popular thematic concern with young adult fiction particularly at the moment?. Perhaps on a whole teenagers are more plugged in to this reality television/ Internet/ Youtube sensation than any other demographic and it is our youngsters who are more at danger from these things but at the same time it is these young people who can also DO MORE to drive change than anyone else. Interesting paradox I think.

Having just finished Stephanie Meyer’s The Host –  and being another sort of ‘Dystopian novel’ aimed at young adults with a hefty amount of romance to lighten the mood- I thought I would add this to the mix too. Not being a huge fan of the Twilight series (this is the understatement of all understatements) I was rather hesitant to try this book out, but it was on sale at the second-hand bookstore and I couldn’t say no. Surprisingly I actually quite enjoyed it. Though I will say that having two of the heroines of the story trapped in the same body is pretty confusing at times! Some of the arguments ‘Wanderer’ and Melanie have seem to go on and on in circles, with no logical endpoint as they are both each other and themselves at the same time. A post from the blog American Bibliophile gives a good overall summary of the book’s plot and its thematic concerns –“The Earth was invaded by alien parasites that took over most of the human population by through their parasitic nature, gaining control of their minds and bodies.  Humans were oppressed by this relationship, and some decided to flee and go into hiding.  The biggest difference that I notice to other dystopian reads is that the time period is in the present day. Meyer doesn’t seem to be ruminating on what might happen if humans don’t shape up, she’s giving us a warning that humans are in bad shape NOW!”  Indeed what is interesting about this novel is it just depends what viewpoint you are looking at it from – From Wanderers point of view the ‘souls’ have created a utopian society as there are no messy human feelings/emotions to mess things up – create wars etc, whereas from Melanie’s point of view this very controlled society that the souls bring with them to earth is a dystopia- for while humans have also created war and hate and all these ‘undesirables’ they are also able to experience love, friendships, desire. All those things that really and truly make us human

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Hungry for the Hunger Games?

After going to see the Hunger Games last week, I feel that I have given myself sufficient enough time to fully digest it haha and be able to report back on my findings. While anyone who knows me knows that I am a staunch believer that the book is always going to be better than the film adaptation of anything, the marketing of this film snagged me. The sneaky and oh so tantalising tidbits of the trailer that were aired in movie theatres right up to the films release date really had me excited. Waiting in the line to get into the movie theatre to finally see the film itself, I was almost caught up in the screaming and erraticness showcased by the two twelve-year-old girls in front of me. I managed to just restrain myself from complete embarrassment. The very fact that these books were first projected into the Young Adult (YA) Fiction category should have warned me that the movie theatre would have been filled with sugar filled, excitable teenagers, but I too was caught up in the moment! The wonder of the books themselves is however that they manage to resonate on a much wider level than just these aforementioned teenagers *shudder*. On holiday in Rarotonga a couple of years ago with all my sources of reading material having run dry, I reluctantly picked up my 14-year-old brother’s copy of the Hunger Games and proceeded to read it in one sitting, and then passed it on to my English teacher of a mother who loved it as well. I think the very fact that the three avid fans of the books’ in my family are of very disparate ages really showcases the book’s talent to overcome these age barriers to really capture you with its wonderful sense of characterisation. To be honest I thought the movie was great too, so sue me.

I believe that the film was mostly true to the book, however it is always hard to produce a film adaptation of a book where much of the content is the characters own internal conversations in her head. A writer relies on the audiences’ own imaginations to fill in the gaps whereas film directors need to make it come to life visually which is difficult to do. What could have been done better was showing more background to the struggles of the districts themselves under the rule of the capital. The film does not so much go into the chaos leading up to the ‘mockingjay’ revolution but supposedly if and when they make the two following movies this will be addressed (hopefully). Also in one of the scenes where Katniss and Peeta are in the capital preparing for the games themselves, you catch a glimpse of one of avox’s which as all Hunger Games fan knows is another important background story that carries on throughout the other two books also, but no mention of this is made in the film. Just a passing glance by the camera and that is all.

No surprises that one of the main criticisms by Hollywood types and hacks levelled at Katniss’s character in the film played by Jennifer Lawrence was that she looks to well fed to be from a district where people are actually starving to death . As New York Times critic Manohla Dargis writes “A few years ago Ms. Lawrence might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss,  but now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian  fantasy about a people starved into submission,” Read More http://www.ivillage.com/jennifer-lawrence-not-skinny-enough-hunger-games/1-a-439499#ixzz1rXTjA73T. But a fact evidently looked over is that to provide for her family Katniss regularly goes out into the woods to hunt for food , they are a lot better off than most in the district. In the book Katniss is actually represented as quite strong and healthy by district 12’s standards. This is also overlooking the fact that only Jennifer has been criticised for her appearance whereas her two male co-stars have not been. Gale played by Liam Hemsworth looks like a typical hollywood hunk who is no stranger to protein shakes and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is actually quite small for the well fed bakers son that he is in the book. Let’s just hope that Jennifer is able to withstand Hollywood’s pressure to be scary skinny!

Anyway that’s all I have for you tonight guys. It would be interesting to know what your thoughts and opinions were on the movie! and may the odds be ever in your favour! 🙂

I have also posted a link of the Youtube video of Max The Hipster baby’s review of the Hunger Games purely cause it is hilarious, enjoy!

Raymond Carver- Boredom and the ‘American Dream’

 After suffering through another interminable night at work and with another day looming ahead slaving away in the doldrums tomorrow. I am reminded of the work of Raymond Carver that I first read when I was studying American Literature at University. I am reminded in part because the America Carver writes about is one of shopping malls, fast food, alcoholism, and dead – end jobs and I feel a parallel with the direction my life is taking at the moment haha. My boredom and frustration sits quite well with the doom and gloom depicted in his work. Bear with me! He is really a marvellous storyteller.

Credited with reviving the short story as an artistically and commercially legitimate form, Raymond Carver carved himself an important place in the American Realism tradition, and its post modern version, minimalism. A recurring idea within Carver’s writing is that characters are often looking for words or greater narratives to explain or to perhaps unify the fragments of their lives, which in turn creates a sort of gap in language or “interstices”.It is in this ‘gap in language’ that Carver sets his stories.  Indeed much has been written about this ‘plague of inarticulateness’ (Saltzman, p.7) that many of Carver’s characters endure. Vernacular in these stories is seen to be limited to the bounds of the struggling streams of consciousness; dialogues are brief and are often in the shadows of what is really meant. Certainly these characters can only work with what resources they have. As James Atlas of The Atlantic complained, Carver’s characters; “are hardly garrulous; their talk is groping, rudimentary, and essentially they have nothing to say to each other”. However this is seen to be the strength in Carver’s writing, that he does not speak down to those people that he essentially writes about.

Carver’s stylistic trademark viewed in many of his stories is seen to be a sense of open-endedness or lack of resolution, which is further compounded by the futility of the lives these characters are leading in the greater scheme of things. They are pictured as treading water, and trying to stay afloat.As Arthur Saltzman claims “The dull captivity people endure in Carvers stories are no guarantee of security.” Indeed in much of Carvers work there is created a thematic sense of perpetual uncertainty and menace. Carver hones in on characters in the exact moment their lives have begun to unravel or fray. One of my favourite Carver short stories is titled ‘Too much water too close to home’ and so depicts a couple on the precipice of this ‘unravelling’. Claire learns that her husband Stuart and his friends while on a fishing trip, discover a nude body of a young girl floating in the river. Instead of going for help, they tie the body to a tree, proceed with their fishing trip and only cut it back by one day. The rest of the story  highlights the disintegration of the marriage once Claire learns of her husbands complete lack of moral compass  and narrates her following emotion breakdown. What I like about this story is its sense of creepiness, there is a sort of underlying terror that you can’t  quite seem to put your finger on and which Carver’s characters are not able to fully enunciate themselves.

Raymond Carver can be seen as a chronicler of the gritty underside of the American dream and that is perhaps what appeals about him to me. He is not all sunshine and happiness……. indeed he is hardly ever sunshine and happiness but that does not negate the importance of his work. These narrow and inglorious lives recorded in Carver’s stories, tell us much about society today, and as such, what it means to be human. Especially those days when you just cant be bothered with much at all! 😉

On a blustery saturday night with nothing better to do

This first poem that I am going to attempt to introduce is called “The Old Astronomer to his Pupil” – written by 19th Century poet Sarah Williams. One of my favourite poems, it is perhaps only right to start the ball rolling right here. In fact I love this poem so much that I have been debating getting its most famous stanza (As discussed later on) tattooed onto my arm. That is dedication.

To me personally the depth of this poem lies in its ability to almost paint for the reader this moving tableau between dying old man and young. While the poem is indeed about furthering scientific ideals and the absolute zealous nature of many scientists as captured in the character of the old astronomer, at its heart it is essentially a man looking back on his life,  at both his failures and his success complete and urging his young student to carry on his life’s work though it had its many low points and pitfalls.  The poems most famous stanza  “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night”  was immortalised in John Brashear’s (a prominent American Astronomer’s) final resting place, on a plaque on the crypt below the Keeler Telescope at Alleghenny Observatory.

‘Night’ within this stirring couplet is evidently a metaphor for death. The astronomer feels no fear of the ‘other side’.  He has studied the night sky too much to ever be afraid of its mysteries. While this may be a poem about death, to me it is also uplifting as it speaks too about life. The wonder and awe that is inspired when one looks up at the night sky, that feeling of being too vast and yet too small at the same time. It seems that the overriding theme here is that life is really too short for regrets, too short for fear. Anyway I fear that I have rambled on far too much already so here is the poem itself, enjoy!

The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, 'tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men's fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles!

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant's fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night

The beginning of it all

This blog has been started with the intention of (a) curbing my incessant boredom, (b) venting my frustrations at the world and just generally because if I do not let it all out I may just explode. Most importantly however this is going to be a forum that celebrates the written word. Whether it be some of my favourite passages from books, book reviews, poems or just generalities that I believe need to be aired. My main aim is to post a poem or whatever it may be every day and then hopefully go on to discuss them in a literary manner (hah!), i.e what they mean to me etc . So sit back dear invisible audience and open your mind to the realms of possibility, words and maybe a little magic.