Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Zoot Suit (1981)

Watch! Edward James Olmos is totally dramatic as the ghostly Chorus in Zoot Suit. He is the quintessential Pachuco, Simon!

Montoya--20 Years of Joda

Jose Montoya's poetry is not anthologized much in American Literature, according to Professor Bonilla. A reluctance to formally include him in the canon might seem a direct result of Montoya's multiplicity of language in his poetry, but this is the prime reason why it should be included--it reflects the multiplicity of culture so prominent in American culture, and it forces the reader to be engaged by confronting them with language. Other writers confront their audiences with obscene language and striking thematics, others with rhetoric, others with flowery and elevated use of language and epics, others with emotional and elegiac odes, and others with a clear break of tradition. A good writer confronts the reader with something, and forces a reaction--a good one, a negative one, a self-revealing reaction. The worst writers lack the ability to get a reaction from the reader.

One of the ways in which Jose Montoya engages the reader in his poems, is by including Spanish phrases untranslated. To the monolingual English speaker, the words seem like a foreign and exotic confrontation, and one is given the choice of remaining in the dark to admire, or to go look up the dictionary in an attempt to identify hidden meanings. The bilingual reader is able to revel in the immediacy of a secret, a private moment between him or herself and the author, who obviously share this shared knowledge of a shared culture, of a mixing of traditional and nontraditional to create something new.

Much like Ginsberg's Howl, Montoya's "El Louie" is indeed an elegy--that it goes through the traditional progression of lament, praise, and consolation--but gains its likeness with Ginsberg's work because it undercuts the established tradition of straightforward grief and praise poetry. For Montoya, the tradition is that of American literature to be based only on the English language--he is bringing something new to the table: unabashed and untranslated Spanish voices, mixed in with English voices, a combination that is so representative of his particular voice and community, of a people so American in that they are oppressed and repressed, that he grants them a form of expression through new forms of literature.

Mainstream American culture is so deeply rooted in the ideals of independence, freedom, high esteem for the individual, competition, and a struggle for identity apart from the group, which stem from the efforts of our forefathers who fought for independence from the English. These individualistic values are at odds then, with the more Mexican values that are based on family and collectivistic concerns, that serve the group more than the individual, as well as a way to prolong the strong history and pride of a people so closely tied to families. This mash-up of values and motivations is evident in Montoya's poetry; his work allows for his community to speak--the varied dialogues, different perspectives, family members and fellow Pachucos--both in English and in Spanish and yet all distinctly American and revealing of this particular time and place, of a people removed from mainstream society.

"El Louie" is funny. "Hoy entarraron a Louie/And San Pedro o san pinche/Are in for it". Right away, it undercuts most tragic elegies with a playful and mischievous quality that reveals a respect for Louie, but in a way that is not entirely elevated like other elegiac subject matter. Here, Louie is being remembered for his artistic endeavors, his creation of the Pachuco persona, of his heroism on and off the streets of California, of the great things that he was capable of, and of the shortcomings that spotted life and that made his downfall so tragic. It's not his death that is so sad, it's the way his life had deteriorated by the end of it. "The end was a cruel hoax/But his life had been/Remarkable!" Montoya's speaker laments the fact that El Louie did not die in "accion", and he attempts to console his grief by praising the earlier life of El Louie, and by elevating that character of the Pachuco. The word Montoya uses to describe his life is a consolation: "Remarkable!", meaning that it is "worthy of attention". I picture it being said with a genuinely happy, yet mournful and honorable smirk.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Simpsons and Thomas Pynchon

The Simpsons!! Good ol' Simpsons. Apparently, the Simpson's is the quintessential postmodern television show--according to one Mark McQueen, English Professor at PCC. I took his English 1C class and he let me know about my generation's humor--and even sense of identity, arguably--it is rooted deeply in Postmodernism, on a level that we accept without a doubt, that is it takes effort to undo our mode of thinking--the same thing that T.S. Eliot wrote about when discussing tradition, that we have to be aware of our timelessness and our contemporaneity, the latter of which we take for granted.

As discussed in the lecture, Postmodernism is self-referential and self-aware. It can be situated in a time and place, and is evocative of a moment. It's reactionary to the Modernist movement of the earlier 20th century, and it sought to reject that which had backfired: technological advancements that were created with good intentions, that led to the paranoia of the Cold War, for example. It seeks to expose ironies that occur when people make universal judgments and the contradictions that this practice creates--and that's where the sarcastic humor comes in. It understand that trying to explain why and how something is funny is the most unfunny thing one can do, so I'll let Thomas Pynchon give you a taste:

Just for good measure, here is Moe's take:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oedipa's Journey--The Crying of Lot 49

This one's a bit over due. I read Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 a while ago, and by not posting to this blog right away, the material isn't as fresh, so I'm left to look at the piece once or twice removed. The character of Oedipa--the main character--definitely struck me as very strong and unique. But why should she not be? When reading it, I didn't see her as an anomaly of a woman, I just saw her as a strong, resourceful, realistic, flawed, empathetic, and human character. The issue of gender never struck my mind, and as far as other readings go, as others have argued that Oedipa is indeed a strong feminist character, I don't disagree. I'm a fan of strong female protagonists, not because they are female, but because they are strong. I like any character that breaks through other's established conventions--the underdog--and I suppose female characters are a great go-to for this dynamic.

In a world full of mysterious happenings, secret societies, cosmic coincidences, intrigue, paranoia personified, the character of Oedipa is the reader's one solid anchor--and like us--she goes a bit mad in the process. As discussed somewhere in the middle of The Crying of Lot 49, the existence of a "Maxwell's Demon" is introduced as a "sorter" of things, among other more complicated ideas relating to energy exchanges and engineering. When Oedipa Maas is named executor of her ex-boyfriend's estate, a vast and squandered fortune of property that leads to a conspiracy of secret postal services that date back centuries, Oedipa is swept away by curiosity, almost like Rapunzel unwittingly discovering that she can climb down her tower if she uses her hair as mountain-climbing gear. Her ex-boyfriend's sordid investments become the basis of her own unraveling, and her journey is one of self-awareness, and of becoming more sensitive to the world around her.

While uncovering clues, she becomes more aware of people's attempts to communicate. She also becomes more emphatic--in the beginning she tells her husband Mucho that he is "too sensitive", and before the end of the novel, she is reaching out to a lovelorn stranger on the phone, the only person she has left, and has experienced a Virgin-Mary like role in an encounter with a old man she holds and comforts after he begs her to send a letter to his wife. Oedipa becomes more keen in her observations, and this leads her to a perilous quest for the truth, no matter what the cost.

The one major thing I was wondering, and even fearfully anticipating, by the penultimate chapter of the novel, was how on Earth is Pynchon going to finish this book with a satisfying conclusion? His ending, then, is something I definitely respect and can see why it makes such an impact--and also how it fits into the postmodern structure and attitude. It forces you to engage--it confronts you with its deliberate lack of a resolution of plot--and makes you react. The whole aspect of the novel being a mystery, a journey to "pierce into truth" and unravel the unknown, forces you to invest yourself into the reading. Oedipa wins you over, you want her to figure it out! Or atleast I did. By not having a clear resolution, there is a clear cut intention of forcing you to react: Do you feel disappointed by the ending? Are you shocked? Is it maddening to have the dangling carrot so sharply taken away? Is it new and refreshing that such an ending leads much to the imagination? I had all of the reactions and more, and I began to see why Pynchon did this. I also wondered if the whole time while I was looking for resolution of the story, that I missed something else. I suppose it was Oedipa's journey into self-awareness and into action that was the actual focus, and that the conspiracy of Tystero was only the means of getting Oedipa started on her transformation.

The ending drops us off right at the edge of revelation, a few steps before the climax of resolution. I'm glad that we, as the audience, don't get to figure answer the riddle--that meaning of the intent to communicate--because we find that the message is not important. Instead, it forces you to realize what the actual intent to communicate is! Perhaps, even, there is no conscious intent to communicate: our symbology--our language--is just a record of our desire and attempt to communicate, to reach out; they are a recording of "storm systems of suffering" (or whatever that quote is from the book, I don't have the page number). As Oedipa is beginning to be more sensitive, in sorting out clues and evidence, she is becoming aware, not of the message, but of the intent to communicate. She becomes compassionate.

Friday, November 6, 2009

O'Hara Poetry and Personism

Frank O'Hara had a revolutionary thought. To present the energy of his poetry directly to the reader. There's no pretense of pretentiousness, no snobby elitism, and no misdirection of intent--O'Hara wants to share what makes him passionate. He wants to relay a particular moment of time and place, and he wants to convey the feeling one experiences directly to the person who is reading it. He would LOVE to call you up on the phone and do it that way, but this is literature, and he only has certain means of accomplishing his goal. O'Hara doesn't care much for progress or improvement of humanity--for what? death?--He wants to make you feel, make you laugh, simple as that.

Let me go into more of this, but this is just to get me started, so that you know I've been working on these poets. I'm catching up!