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Ambiguity Through Time

aybala50's picture

After discussingbiological evolution, turning to the evolution of literature, it was difficultto see a connection of evolutionary characteristics that were similar in both.In this paper I will be focusing on the biological aspect of evolution as it hasbeen studied over history. Historically speaking the human evolved from a notso complicated creature to a creature that seems to now have a multitude ofambiguous feeling to it. By this I mean that in the past while humans wereunderstood by the means of looking at physical characteristics and apparentpersonality characteristics, now it has become much more complicated. Now,thanks to Sigmund Freud amongst other psychologists and neurobiologists, thebrain is mostly what defines a human being and not only this, now there is theissue of the ‘unconscious’. The unconscious is defined by a person’s feelingsor thoughts that is kept in the unconscious part of the brain, hence the personis not aware that he or she feels or thinks that way.

            Justas the view of biological evolution has changed over time in this way, becomingmore ambiguous, literature has evolved in a similar way as well. In class we’veread Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, WaltWhitman’s Leaves of Grass, and SiriHustvedt’s The Sorrows of An American. Theaspect of the evolution of literature is apparent in these works across thetime they were created. Charles Darwin was the first of these three to createhis work of the Origin of Species.This study is for its time a very scientific study. Darwin, through a lot ofresearch puts forth his theory of evolution as it is seen in this work. Inshort Darwin’s work is very straightforward; he gives his best guess as to howwe as humans have evolved and are evolving. Darwin’s work, not only in its time,but also today is very controversial because of its implications for religion.Darwin argues that the course of life on this planet is because of a randommixture of genes, not because of the will of a god. Henceforth the reader ofDarwin’s work is not very confused as to what the author is trying to say.Darwin was merely passing on information he thought useful to the largerreading population that wanted to read his work.

            WaltWhitman’s Leaves of Grass came at aturning point in literary revolution. Unlike most of the poetry before his timethat talked about, for example battle, Whitman tended to focus on smaller moreinnocent beauties that surrounded him. His work seems rather jumpy in thecontext of what is being talked about. One minute Whitman will talk about asexual theme and the next he will talk about a commoner that he seems to beviewing. Unlike older poetry his does not rhyme or flow in a traditionalmatter. Whitman truly was a turning point in literary work. Besides the obviouscontent difference as well as structure difference, Whitman’s work becomes moreambiguous than previous works. It is possible that Whitman’s work in this caseis more able to access the unconscious of the reader. The unconscious is atwork every day as it affects our thoughts and actions, though we may notrealize this. Whitman’s writing is written in a way that sounds like a streamof thought. As many psychoanalyst use ‘free association’ to uncover theunconscious, Whitman’s work is doing the same thing. Free association is theprocess in which one starts talking and says anything that comes to mind.Sometimes one discovers thing that did not seem obvious just by not thinking,but rather just saying. Whitman’s work very much sounds like it is a stream ofthinking just as this, hence it is possible that by his work becoming a part ofhis unconscious, it is becoming more ambiguous. The more ambiguous the work,the easier it is to see bits of the unconscious reflected on it. 

The last literarywork discussed in class was the novel TheSorrows of an American. This novel best portrays the growing ambiguity withthe evolution of literature. Every single character in this novel struggleswith some sort of ambiguity in their life and in turn the reader sees the novelas a very ambiguous work. The main character of the novel, Eric, is living alife that is not only in the present, but also in the past. Eric’s present isintertwined with his ancestors past. Through his dead father’s diaries Ericlives the past and somehow I feel he connects it to what is going on in hislife at the time. Because the lives of the characters in the novel are soambiguous the message the novel may send to the readers unconscious is subtler.
Just as literature has evolved, the same result in increased ambiguity is alsoseen in artwork. As we discussed in class artwork that used to portraylandscape’s or portraits of people became increasingly ambiguous. While lookingat a work one may see a tree while another can see a waterfall.

            Ambiguityin work is a mere portal into the unconscious of the person studying the work.Just as a stream of consciousness can reveal much about the unconscious, ambiguouswork can do the same. When people see something that they recognize in an imageit doesn’t reveal much about what they think, but when the image is somethingthat does not portray an image that makes sense, the unconscious is revealed inthe interpretation by the viewer.             


Paul Grobstein's picture

increased ambiguity in biology and literature

"just as the view of biological evolution has changed over time ... , becoming more ambiguous, literature has evolved in a similar way as well"

So maybe its not so hard "difficult to see a connection of evolutionary characteristics that were similar in both" biology and literature?  The question might then be is it "the view" of each that has become "more ambiguous" or the things themselves?  And, for either answer, why?  What is driving increased "ambiguity"?