Cat's Cradle-Vonnegut

Air Force official fired after 6 nukes fly over U.S.:

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B-52 bomber, accidentally armed with warheads, went over several states

WASHINGTON - A B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear warheads and flown for more than three hours across several states last week, prompting an Air Force investigation and the firing of one commander, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the mishandling of the weapons “deeply disturbing” and said the committee would press the military for details. Rep. Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the Homeland Security committee, said it was “absolutely inexcusable.”

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Wikipedia on Three Mile Islandand The China Syndrome.

Death of a Salesman-Miller

Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman" is steeped in the sense of losses from the Great Depression.
Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman" is steeped in the sense of losses from the Great Depression.

NY Times article discussing the appropriate timing of the latest Broadway revival of Miller's play.

Besides the economic parallels, what other conflicts, characters, or themes from the play do you think are still relevant today? Post your response using the Discussion tab above.


"Why Shakespeare Didn't Know Grammar"

Address at 1994 Opening Convocation
Karl Tamburr, Professor of English,

As someone trained in early English literature -- that is, works written before 1700 - I find one of my biggest challenges is dealing with those received opinions about writers that my students bring to class. For example, it is one of those eternal truths we learn early in our education that William Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers of the English language. When we look at his use of language, this truth seems to be self-evident. As that marvelous series, The Story of English, points out, even in an age that prided itself on inventing new words, Shakespeare was exceptional: his vocabulary was about 34,000 words, about double the number for a normal, educated person. He also introduced more new words into the language than any other author in history. Given the weight of his authority, you can imagine how shocked a friend of mine, an alumna of the College, was to discover gross grammatical errors in Shakespeare's writing. How could the Bard of Avon, someone we are taught to revere as semi-divine, have not known how to compare adjectives? For us, there really is no excuse for writing "more strong," "more strange," and "more sweet" in some plays and "more fitter," "more corrupter," and "most poorest" in others. And while we can forgive Shakespeare for not attending Oxford or Cambridge, can we ever forgive him for not knowing the distinction between "who" and "whom": "Who wouldst thou serve?"; "To who, my lord?" (King Lear l.iv.24, V.iii. 249); "Who does he accuse?" (Antony and Cleopatra If left to our own devices, of course, we still tend to begin questions with "who," whether it is correct or not. But, damn it, we expect more of Shakespeare. For anyone seeking perfection from our most famous writer, this disappointment may be "the most unkindest cut of all"!

When the alumna asked me the reason for these "errors," I somewhat archly replied that Shakespeare didn't observe the rules of grammar because he didn't have them. The look she gave me taught me much about our attitudes towards grammar: it was a mixture of skepticism (after all, she knew I liked to tease her!) and pure horror. In one way, I was teasing her because what we usually call the rules of grammar, those codified do's and don't's that are drilled into us during the serenity of adolescence, are very different from what a linguist or an anthropologist would call grammar, which is really nothing more than usage. Her look also reminded me that we tend to accept these learned rules of grammar as having a divine origin, as if they were a kind of appendix to the Ten Commandments that Moses also brought down from Mount Sinai. Of course, they aren't.

In fact, generations of students have long suspected a more diabolical source for these rules. After all, who would demand that you know when to add "-er" and "-est" to adjectives or use "more" and "most" with them? Who would insist that you know the difference between "who" and "whom"? By now some of you are saying to yourselves, "It must have been a faculty member! Probably in the English Department!" Your paranoia is perfectly understandable, and in this case, it is absolutely correct.

But who were these teachers? And why were they doing this to us? The answers to these questions bring us to a time 150 years after the death of Shakespeare, the middle of the eighteenth century. It was a time very different from the Elizabethan Age when the old cosmology, the old political values of a central monarchy, and the very structure of English society had changed utterly. The idea of change itself was only beginning to be seen as a good thing. Whereas we see change as a sign of health, as a basic element in nature itself, many in the eighteenth century saw it as a sign of decay, a falling away from the perfection of Nature, and a reminder of our own fallibility as human beings. That is why those conservative schoolmasters and grammarians of Britain were obsessed with the changes they saw occurring in English. Most of them recognized that language was in a state of continual change, but for them this was a bad thing. The Elizabethan Age may have gloried in coining new words, but the eighteenth century wanted to define and limit their meaning. Its exemplar was Dr. Samuel Johnson, whose Dictionary in 1755 prescribed both the "correct" pronunciation and the "correct" meaning of a word. It is this age and this mentality that gave us the so-called rules of grammar.

In preparing this speech, I decided to look at one particular handbook of grammar from the eighteenth century, Robert Lowth's Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762). Lowth was a clergyman who rose to become Bishop of London and in his old age even declined the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. As you can see, I wasn't kidding about the connection of religious and grammatical zeal! In his preface, Lowth declares why it is important to know the rules of grammar: "every person of a liberal education . . . should be able to express himself with propriety and accuracy. It will evidently appear from these Notes, that our best Authors for want of some rudiments of this kind have sometimes fallen into mistakes, and even been guilty of palpable errors in point of Grammar." Poor Shakespeare! Some of the diction aside, though, this statement surprised me because it sounded so much like what I had been taught in junior high school, which occurred just after the eighteenth century. Lowth explains that these principles of grammar are especially important for all those "who shall have occasion to furnish themselves with the knowledge of modern languages." In other words, you have to know English grammar before you can learn any foreign language, a sentiment I've heard at least once in the coffee lounge in Benedict.

The wide acceptance of these grammatical rules and the attitudes behind them had far-reaching consequences. No longer could a writer, even a genius like Shakespeare, ignore these rules and be considered intelligent. Because at this time there was no universal education, grammar became an instant marker for social class and acceptability. In the words of England's most famous fictional grammarian, Prof. Henry Higgins, "The moment [an Englishman] opens his mouth he makes some other Englishman despise him." Nor have the colonies fared much better: in America, these rules of grammar underlie what has been termed "standard American English," but as in other countries, this is really just the speech of those who wield the most power, in this case, those who are white, educated, professional, middle- and upper-class. What I hope you see is that there is nothing "natural" about these rules of grammar or our feelings about them: they are every bit as much a cultural construct as a building, a painting, a computer, or a sonnet.

Understanding the origin of the rules and their power in society highlights for me what is one of the biggest challenges in my teaching: how do we treat those received opinions and attitudes, those "givens" of our culture? How do we respect the writings and values of the past without this respect degenerating into an unthinking adoration; or conversely, how can we analyze these things and risk bringing them down off their pedestals without degenerating into cynicism? This same dilemma is occurring in different ways for many academic disciplines, yet I must admit that it is very difficult to discard the approaches you were trained in and the opinions that you've held for a long time. And unfortunately for my freshmen in English 1, this does not mean that we will be casting the rules of grammar to the winds; I have no intention of turning 301 Fletcher into a kind of grammatical Liberty Hall. However, if we as teachers and students can begin to see old things in new ways, perhaps we can see the rules of grammar not as do's and don't's that restrict our expression, but as ways that give us power over language. For instance, I don't know how many times the principle of parallel construction, which, as I informed my nephew, has nothing to do with geometry, has helped me sort out my ideas -- has, in fact, helped me discover exactly what I did want to say. Perhaps we can also see the traditional reputations of writers like Shakespeare not as prison bars that hold back our own opinions but as springboards for controversy. For example, have you ever noticed that the same plays seem to be read over and over again in literature courses? That's because not everything he wrote was a masterpiece. If you don't believe me, read the Henry VI plays, or better still, see them on video; after all, that's closer to the way Shakespeare intended them to be experienced. Let's see if we can't nurture a healthy skepticism towards both the past and the present, but without the chip of cynicism on our shoulders. Perhaps then we can make college less of a museum where tradition is dutifully revered but gathers so much choking dust and more of a laboratory where the past is revitalized and, in turn, enlivens the present. When this happens, we may be astonished to find that often Shakespeare is every bit as good as we have been told. In fact, he may even be "more good" than we expect.

What rule of grammar do you despise most? Post it on the discussion tab above.

Heart of Darkness-Conrad

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SIGMUND FREUD began his researches into the workings of the human mind in 1881, after a century during which Europe and America saw the reform of the insane asylum and an ever-increasing interest in "abnormal" psychological states, especially the issue of "nervous diseases" (which was the first phenomenon that Freud studied, examining the nervous system of fish while gaining his medical degree at the University of Vienna from 1873 to 1881). Freud turned to the issue of psychology after reading in 1884 about Breuer's treatment of hysteria by hypnosis and after studying under Charcot at the Sorbonne in 1885. Freud faced opposition and even ridicule for many of his ideas until a group of young doctors began to follow him to Vienna in 1902, leading to the creation of the Viennese Psycho-Analytic Society and, then later in 1910, the formation of the International Psycho-Analytic Association.

Although he often distinguished his ideas from medicine and biology, Freud was especially interested in establishing a scientific basis for his theories and, so, he often turned to biological models in order to underline the empirical basis for what were, by necessity, subjective interpretations of apparently illogical and certainly multivalent symbols (for example, in his analysis of dreams). In A Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (First Lecture), Freud confesses of the difficulties faced by a psychoanalytical critic at the turn of the twentieth century: no empirical evidence; a reliance on the spoken word, because of the talking cure; the extremely personal (because barbaric) nature of sexual drives, which therefore resist exposure (hence the notion of the unconscious); and civilization's "natural" antipathy to the revelation of the instinctivepleasures that we continually sacrifice for the common good (15.15-24).

Despite these caveats, Freud was, indeed, drawn by scientific models for his theories. Although Freud's main concern was with "sexual desire," he understood desire in terms of formative drives, instincts, and appetites that "naturally" determined one's behaviors and beliefs, even as we continually repress those behaviors and beliefs. (As a young student in Vienna, Freud was, in fact, especially fascinated by Charles Darwin's theories of evolution.) Following a biological logic, if you will, Freud therefore established a rigid model for the "normal" sexual development of the human subject, what he terms the "libido development." Here, then, is your story, as told by Freud, with the ages provided as very rough approximations since Freud often changed his mind about the actual dates of the various stages and also acknowledged that development varied between individuals. Stages can even overlap or be experienced simultaneously.
      • 0-2 years of age. Early in your development, all of your desires were oriented towards your lips and your mouth, which accepted food, milk, and anything else you could get your hands on (the oral phase). The first object of this stage was, of course, the mother's breast, which could be transferred to auto-erotic objects (thumb-sucking). The mother thus logically became your first "love-object," already a displacement from the earlier object of desire (the breast). When you first recognized the fact of your father, you dealt with him byidentifying yourself with him; however, as the sexual wishes directed to your mother grew in intensity, you became possessive of your mother and secretly wished your father out of the picture (the Oedipus complex). This Oedipus complex plays out throughout the next two phases of development.

      • 2-4 years of age. Following the oral phase, you entered the sadistic-anal phase, which is split between active and passive impulses: the impulse to mastery on the one hand, which can easily become cruelty; the impulse to scopophilia (love of gazing), on the other hand. This phase was roughly coterminous with a new auto-erotic object: the rectal orifice (hence, the term "sadistic-anal phase"). According to Freud, the child's pleasure in defecation is connected to his or her pleasure in creating something of his or her own, a pleasure that for women is later transferred to child-bearing.

      • 4-7 years of age. Finally, you entered the phallic phase, when the penis (or the clitoris, which, according to Freud, stands for the penis in the young girl) become your primary object-cathexis. In this stage, the child becomes fascinated with urination, which is experienced as pleasurable, both in its expulsion and retention. The trauma connected with this phase is that of castration, which makes this phase especially important for the resolution of the Oedipus complex. Over this time, you began to deal with your separation anxieties (and your all-encompassing egoism) by finding symbolic ways of representing and thus controlling the separation from (not to mention your desire for) your mother. You also learned to defer bodily gratification when necessary. In other words, your ego became trained to follow the reality-principle and to control the pleasure-principle, although this ability would not be fully attained until you passed through the latency period. In resolving the Oedipus complex, you also began to identify either with your mother or your father, thus determining the future path of your sexual orientation. That identification took the form of an "ego-ideal," which then aided the formation of your "super-ego": an internalization of the parental function (which Freud usually associated with the father) that eventually manifested itself in your conscience (and sense of guilt).

      • 7-12 years of age. Next followed a long "latency period" during which your sexual development was more or less suspended and you concentrated on repressing and sublimatingyour earlier desires and thus learned to follow the reality-principle. During this phase, you gradually freed yourself from your parents (moving away from the mother and reconciling yourself with your father) or by asserting your independence (if you responded to your incestuous desires by becoming overly subservient to your father). You also moved beyond your childhood egoism and sacrificed something of your own ego to others, thus learning how to love others.

      • 13 years of age onward (or from puberty on). Your development over the latency period allowed you to enter the final genital phase. At this point, you learned to desire members of the opposite sex and to fulfill your instinct to procreate and thus ensure the survival of the human species.

To explain the early psycho-drama of your childhood, Freud turned to a dramatic work, Sophocles'Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus (who, according to a prophecy, is fated to sleep with his mother and kill his father) attempts to escape his fate but, in the process, unwittingly does the very things he was attempting to avoid. Freud therefore coined the term, the Oedipus complex. One should note that anyone can get arrested at or insufficiently grow out of any of the primal stages, leading to various symptoms in one's adult life. (Seefixation and regression.)

One thing "you" have surely noticed is the decidedly masculine bent of Freud's story of sexual development. Indeed, Freud often had difficulty incorporating female desire into his theories, leading to his famous, unanswered question: "what does a woman want?" As Freud states late in life, "psychology too is unable to solve the riddle of femininity" ("New Introductory Lectures" 22.116). It is for this reason that many feminists have criticized Freud's ideas and one reason why many feminists interested in psychoanalysis have turned instead to Kristeva. (See also Gender and Sex.) To explain women, Freud argued that young girls followed more or less the same psychosexual development as boys.

Indeed, he argues paradoxically that "the little girl is a little man" ("New Introductory Lectures" 22.118) and that the entrance into the phallic phase occurs for the young girl through her "penis-equivalent," the clitoris. In fact, according to Freud, the young girl, also experiences the castration-complex, with the difference that her tendency is to be a victim of what Freud terms "penis-envy," a desire for a penis as large as a man's. After this stage, according to Freud, the woman has an extra stage of development when "the clitoris should wholly or in part hand over its sensitivity, and at the same time its importance, to the vagina" ("New Introductory Lectures" 22.118). According to Freud, the young girl must also at some point give up her first object-choice (the mother and her breast) in order to take the father as her new proper object-choice. Her eventual move into heterosexual femininity, which culminates in giving birth, grows out of her earlier infantile desires, with her own child now taking "the place of the penis in accordance with an ancient symbolic equivalence" ("New Introductory Lectures" 22.128).


A Streetcar Named Desire-Williams

The link below concisely describes the controversial nature of the play:

Historical context of the play

The Stranger Camus

No Exit Sartre

1984 Orwell

Siddhartha Hesse