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Evolit: Week 12--Lonely? Cracked?

Anne Dalke's picture
Paul and I are glad you're here, to share thoughts about the story of evolution and the evolution of stories. This isn't a place for polished writing or final words. It's a place for thoughts in progress: questions, ideas you had before, in or after class, things you've heard or read or seen that you think others might find interesting. Think of it as a public conversation, a place to put things from your mind or brain that others might find useful and to find things from others (in our class and elsewhere) that you might find useful. And a place we can always go back to to see what we were thinking before and how our class conversations have affected that. We are looking forward to seeing where we go, and hoping you are too.

As always, you're free to write about whatever you're thinking about--but here are three (!) possibilities for this week, in order of increasing abstraction:
  • Can you do some more work w/ that puzzling passage on p. 301 of The Sorrows of an American, when Erik says, "It was struck me as a moment when the boundary between inside and outside loosens, and there is no loneliness because there is no one to be lonely"? What's happening here, @ the very end of the story, that enables this so-always-lonely man to gain such a Whitman-like sense of "self," which is not separate from the world?
  • What relationship might we see (or imagine?) between the "cracks" Magda describes as being "healthy," and those Paul described as being central to the practice of science? What function do the cracks "in" our personality serve? How are they like/different from the cracks "of" personal temperament that fuel the ongoing process that is science?
"We're fragmented beings who cement
ourselves together, but there are always cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy"(Magda's advice to Erik, p. 139).
  • How appropriate is The Sorrows of an American as the final text (not the "finale"--that will be your performances!) in a course on the evolution of stories? How much "movement" is there in the novel? Cf., for instance, Katie's impatience with all the characters "stuck in isolation," with Joanna's enjoyment in seeing Erik traced his "individual evolution backwards": does that action make it "count" (or not) as an evolutionary fiction?
skhemka's picture

Being the final story

I think Sorrows Of An American as the final reading for the course worked pretty well for the class and helped put it all together. Before reading this text we learned about evolution, then we learned how evolution is applied and then we spoke about the unconscious and the conscious and now this books brings all of that together as an organized collage so that we have all the pictures on one canvas.

The characters evolve during the whole book while we get glimpses of their unconscious state of mind while dealing with their conscious. The characters are all lonely which helps us look at them as individual species who go through their personal evolution and some come out better than the other in the eyes of the reader just like speciation. This book has it all, the evolution, the pull of the unconscious and the randomness all wrapped up in a story deliberately written in a certain way. This story is one that helps end the class with a better understanding of all the discussions.

Sophiaolender's picture

One part of this book that

One part of this book that stuck with me was from the very end of the book when Hustvedt writes, "I stand and watch the snog and it is all happening at once. It cannot last, I say, this feeling cannot last, but it doesn't matter. It is here now." (304) This passage becomes an imagine in my mind and I feel the same feelings she describes. Everyone deals with this fleeting feeling, the depressing thought that the times when we are having the most fun will be over before we know it. It is a refreshing idea for the end of a book dealing primarily with sorrow.
eglaser's picture

New classics

I just wanted to point out this article to those who are questioning the idea of canon and how books get added to canon. This is Entertainment Weekly magazine's 100 books from the last 25 years that should be considered classic literature.,,20207076_20207387_20207349,00.html

included on this list are books I have read for classes (House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros; Blindness by Jose Saramago) and books I have read for fun (America the Book by Jon Stewart and the Daily Show Writers, The amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon).  

aybala50's picture


The topic i was most interested in with both Whitman and the last novel we read, The Sorrows of an American, is ambiguity. It is my opinion that as literature evolves, amongts other things, it gets more ambiguous. Darwin wrote in a scientific manner, presenting evidence, and providing straight forward information. Walt Whitman tried to access the readers unconscious by writing in a stream of consciousness manner. The last reading, the novel, included so many characters that were ambigous that the reader, or at least myself, got a sense of being in an ambiguous world. Nothing is as it seems, there is always something that I don't know and that I need to discover.
LS2's picture

One aspect of our

One aspect of our conversations re: Whitman and Husvedt that has been lingering in my head is where we have chosen to draw the line between author and character in each. For Whitman, our conversations centered around Walt as a person, perhaps most clearly seen through our debates about whether or not we would want to live with him. In these, we took his poetry to be an exploration and extension of himself, as a window into what "kind" of person he is. Certaintly, Whitman's use of the first person seems to indicate that he is writing as the "self" he is celebrating. And yet, Whitman also uses the third person. For example, in "Song of Myself" he writes "Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughts, a kosmo..."(38). In this distinctly distanced stance, Whitman seems to be writing more about someone, then as someone--I'm not sure if this is an important distiction to draw, and yet it seems to introduce an interesting tension when contrasted with our discussions of Husvedt.

In our conversations about Sorrows of An American, we drew a clear line between the author and her charecters, even though she too, like Whitman, writes in the first person. The gender distinction between Husvedt and Erik is perhaps the most notable aspect of the novel that allows such an immediate boundary to be drawn. However, as we noted, such "gender trouble" was also afoot in Whitman. But instead of understanding Whitman as writing about a character who "contains multitudes," rather we were quick to critize the poet for what seemed to be a concieted, egocentric understanding of himself. 

The differences in how we read these authors would be unproblematic to me if not for how we weighed the benefits and limitations of Husvedt's book. In our small group Dr Grobstein suggested that the bee in his bonnett about Sorrows of an American was that it was preoccupied with looking to the past, as opposed to demonstrating to its readers the interesting new possibilities for the future that arise through evolution. While I think it is true that Husvedt's characters are engaged in a somewhat hopeless project of attempting to piece together their past so as to understand their present, Dr Grobstein's critique relies upon an unfragmented idea of author and self that at once accords with how we read Whitman and disregards the multifaceted self that Whitman asserted. Though Husvedt writes about charecters who are stagnanted by their preoccupation with the past, she herself seems to have evoked the possibilities of the future through the creative production of a novel. Some of us(myself inclued) were a little taken aback by the revelation that Husvedt had used her own father's diaries for those of Erik's father. And yet with Whitman, we accepted that the person illustrated through his poems was meant as a kind of self-portrait.

I guess I am not advocating for one or the other approach, but rather asking why do we understand some people as inalienable from the texts they author, while with others we speak about the characters they depict? I think our discussions demonstrate how slippery it is when we attempt to concretely do one or the other, and how even in a class in which we have, from the beginning, admitted that there are "cracks" both between one another, and within ourselves, we retain a need for a central, singular understanding of the self as we delve into analysis. 

lewilliams's picture

The Snow Man

I mentioned in my small session Thursday that the snow scene of page 301 of Hustvedt seemed very similar to a poem I had read by Wallace Stevens called The Snow Man. I looked it up this weekend to see where that connection was coming from. This is Stevens' poem:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Compare this to Hustvedt:

"It was snowing... it struck me as a moment when the boundry between inside and outside loosens, and there is no loneliness because there is no one to be lonely."


Stevens could easily be one of the missing links between Whitman and Hustvedt. Both of these passages describe, to me, a kind of nilisism, where ultimately there's nothing, but in that nothingness there is something... where ridding the mind of the burden of one's self can acheive a greater understanding of the world that surrounds it. 

Isn't that something that Evolution may ask us to do? Evolution may take away our meaning or our own singular importance in the world in exchange for an understanding of the world itself.

Stevens seems to think we have to be primed for that-- in order to understand the nothing we have to be ready to make our 'selves' nothing too.




fquadri's picture

cracked but not lonely

When I read that passage on pg 301, I felt that he was trying to say that no one is truly lonely. We’ll have our bad moments, days, or something bigger than that but there are other people around us. Even if these people are mere acquaintances or even complete strangers, we can’t deny that everyone has similar issues that make them cope with bad days and loneliness. Even if we can’t find comfort in someone else’s words or arms or presence, we all know that we aren’t struggling with our problems alone and we as the human race is connected together through both happiness and suffering (such as feelings of loneliness), and because there is this connection, we’re not all that lonely.


As for “cracks,” I side with Magda for the most part. Some are healthy and they help us define our uniqueness as a person. Without them, we wouldn’t be who or where we are today. I like to think of it as statues. Say we have five nearly identical statues in a room, and I say nearly because they all have cracks in them but in different areas. One may have several cracks in the head and another all around the body, and another may have a few on its hands. These statues now have some uniqueness to them because of these “flaws”. If it weren’t for our cracks, we wouldn’t be very human, instead we would be robots. These cracks allow us to be a diverse species and see the world in many ways, hence making life for everyone, a little more interesting.

mfradera's picture

A bit of film theory

The last couple of pages of The Sorrows of An American gave the feel of a film montage. Montage, as an film technique, is based upon the system of sequence recognition of objects into the brain. The film theorist Eisenstein argued that montage is an intellectual “Synthesis that evolves from the opposition between thesis and antithesis.” A montage cell (a single shot within a montage sequence) doesn’t need to maintain continuity with previous cells, in fact, the greatest impact is made when it does not. What matters is the emotional or psychological end the scene leads to. Indeed, these last few passages do reflect a kind of intellectual synthesis on the part of the main character, Erik. It’s interesting that a portion of the novel actual deals with the intricacies of a film, arguably the most influential medium of media of the 20th (and 21st?) century. Seeing as how she uses nearly every literary genre in putting together this story, it only makes sense that she should also use film. I might have liked to see the use of puppets somewhere in the novel, but I guess that’s asking a bit much. Maybe that’s just material for a final presentation…?

Hilary McGowan's picture


A film montage is really a perfect way to describe the ending of the story.

Or what you could call an ending. In some ways I liked how the book ended, leaving the character at a point where he could finally experience the beginning of a life in a new phase of life. It was like coming from beginning to end, and then to the beginning again. An odd thought, like seeing the start at the stroy finally being revealed at the end of a movie with the characters looking about like they were blinded by the sun. A more retrospective look in a fresh new light of thinking that almost seemed to come from another voice than the book had been written through Erik. I wonder if Husdvedt was trying to tell us a better way to find the answers to our questions was to simply look at it in another way rather than continue puzzling through the same issues over and over again. 

dshanin's picture


The discussion of how appropriate a choice "Sorrows of an America" was for the final book of our class caught me off guard.  I had never given much thought to the progression of books presented in a course and instead focused on learning all I could from those that are there.  In this sense I feel that I understand why this book was chosen even if I might not make the same decision.  The rather splintered elements of self and narrative seen in the story do continue the theme and tie in nicely to the "cracks" of science presented earlier.  I am not a particular fan of the book, it is pleasant enough to read (especially vs. Walt Whitman) but I almost wish we had read something that is a more important part of the literary cannon.  After Whitman and Darwin this book just feels a bit amateur by comparison.  
amoskowi's picture

So I found the quote I was

So I found the quote I was looking for on Thursday's class about the painting of Eggy. It's on page 39:

"Although the picture's luminosity conveyed a feeling of transcendence, I found it unsentimental, not one of those pictures that turn children into the objects of an adult's false romantic projections."


And from that point on I wondered whether Eggy as a character was, when it came down to it, one of those false romantic projections. She's quirky, certainly, and she as a character doesn't fall into the literary trap of always offering just the right insight without even knowing it because of her innocent view of the world. She's not what you would think of from a standard idealized child- she's too random and aimlessly playful for that. But at the same time she's never bothersome, and really, all 5 (6?) year olds are going to be at one point or another. She's always charming, really, a dynamic but an unflawed character. I was wondering if others then found this moment about the painting to be one that reveals Hustedvt's own flaws with creating this character? Is it then hypocritical for Hustedvt's to include this comment about the "romantic projection?"

Don't get me wrong, I love Eggy. :) I'm just wondering about her role. 

Student Blogger's picture

Evolution of this course

Originally, I thought there were elements of Sorrows of An American that led to  a logical evolution of the course, with parallels stemming from Leaves of Grass.  I noticed parallels between the writing style of Whitman and Hustvedt, from the realisim throughout their literature as well as the evolution of the self of the characters in each of the works of literature.  In regards to the context of the novels, I did not happen to find any links between the characters of the texts because Whitman left his situations and stories in his poetry open ended and open for interpretation, while Hustvedt was specific about the relationships with her characters and their development throughout the novel. After class on Thursday, I was left questioning these parallels and noticing the differences between the two texts more so than the similarities.  Although divergence is still a form of evolution, as this is how more stories and ideas are generated, it is harder to conceptualize the evolution of the course when such apparent differences come into light.  Incorporating Sontag's ideas into the processing of the texts, if interpretation was eliminated from the analysis of the texts, I feel as though a logical evolution would be more evident.  However since it is very difficult to eliminate all forms of interpretation from the text, comparison is inevitable.  Therefore, I would agree with the idea that was settled on at the end of class on Thursday, that I am questioning the evolution of the literary portion of this course due to the understanding of biological evolution from the first portion of the course.  
enewbern's picture


The cracks that are inherent in every individual person makes people interesting. Perfection isn't something that is necessarily desirable since when there are no flaws there is rarely interest. There is no need to grow and evolve to bigger and better things since without cracks there is nothing to base the new ideas or characteristics from. Much like Prof. Grobstein's crack, it is something that exists to create change and varied perception, which I believe is a very desirable trait especially in a class like this where different perspectives, backgrounds, and cracks create a diverse and interesing learning environment. I like the idea of the crack both in the individual and as a part of the scientific method. It just seems more real. Things are not ever completely removed from themselves that way, much as it may be desirable in certain situations.
sustainablephilosopher's picture

I feel like "figuring out

I feel like "figuring out who you are" is a frivolous modern activity that constitutes the hole of our collective emptiness. Notions of self reach deep within us, trying to find a meaning or history that is not really there. The idea that one can "figure out" who one is promotes a conception that one can find a stable, fixed self and thus halt the process of evolution once and for all, using that chosen/ discovered identity as a mediator indefinitely. However, just like evolution, the concept of self continually develops and never stops - not only is there no end point, but there is nothing latent within us waiting to be uncovered and inhabited. We simply have a telescoping of consciousness ad nauseam until we die. There is no atomistic, singular, cohesive whole that constitutes a self; perhaps we moderns feel so empty because we operate under such an assumption instead of acknowledging the dynamic relationality that continually shapes both our consciousness and everything in the world around us. Like philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote, the world is like a "knot in motion."

Therefore it is no surprise that a novel like Hustvedt's, focusing on static notions of finding a stable 'self' and discovering one's personal mythic past, is less-than-compelling for some of us to read, because as Ann noted the action primarily consists in "the journey into the landscape of the self." We live so much inside our heads and dote on this quest that moderns are completely isolated from one another physically, psychologically, spiritually. The p. 301 revelation that "there is no loneliness because there is no one to be lonely" made completely sense to me because there is no self that we seek at our core, just a Buddhist nothingness or sunyata, and, concordantly, separation of one human being from anything else in the universe is an illusion. "The illness that besets the intellectual" is precisely trying to analyze one thing in isolation from any number of other things, of trying to solve problems such as one's own identity in a vacuum.

As Paul noted Thursday, the novel is less interesting to him because what new things are possible through evolution is more interesting than analyzing the way things came to be the way they presently are. This moment in history is one way that things have happened, but it could have been infinitely otherwise, and will become infinitely otherwise.
kcofrinsha's picture

Week 12

Is there a parallel between the cracks Magda discusses and "the crack" Paul Grobstein introduced? I'm not sure mainly because I'm not sure what is meant by a "crack" in each case. I see the science crack as a break in the otherwise whole "loopy" scientific method. To me Magda's cracks seem a lot like the memory fragments that are discussed. I found two mentions of memory fragments. "the way we organize perceptions into stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, how our memory fragments don't have any coherence until they're reimagined in words." (p. 47) During a discussion of Erik's father's memory of the Japanese officer there are three short sentences: "Intrusive memories. Fragments. These are the pieces that won't fit." (p. 84-85). I see Magda's metaphor as similar to these metaphors about memory. It seems to me that the idea is that we are made up of fragments that we try to pull together into a coherent "self."  The expression "I fell apart" comes to mind.  Those words seem to evoke an image similar to the cement magda discusses giving way.  I haven't figured out what any of this means, or if I even agree with myself, but I just thought I'd share with you some of my thinking on the subject.
kapelian's picture

I think what Erik realised

I think what Erik realised in the 301 passage was that people will always be lonely.  Even when they make friendships and relationships, they still have those moments when they get so absorbed in themselves that it feels like no one is there for them at all.  I think the snow might have some deep literary meaning that an english scholoar could understand, but not me.  

When people start thinking deep about their lives or the world around them, it's like they've fallen into some kind of crack. They just think and think and don't really come up with an answer. Or, a crack in personality can just be a personality flaw. Someone could be so nice to the point of gullible and seemingly stupid,  it would be like a crack in their niceness.

eawhite's picture

Hustvedt’s characters

Hustvedt’s characters have spiraling out-of-control lives; neither their lives nor the book has an ending. Hustvedt is still alive so she has no ending either. Dennett is still alive and his book was a continuation of Darwin’s as well as others’ thoughts in addition to a compilation of Dennett’s postulations. Darwin and Whitman though dead in the flesh continue to live through their stories and their stories continue to live throughout history. The theory of evolution, like the authors and their works, is a continuous loop… a steady stream of information moving slowly, waiting to be observed – summarized – reobserved – resummarized and so on.   


These readings have given me a greater appreciation for Darwin’s theory of evolution and a newfound realization that his theory is not limited to science but can be applied to all things.

aseidman's picture

Perfect? Please.

What function do the "cracks" in our personality serve?

I often tell my little brother (who is far from perfect) that "perfect is borirng." Pretty inane statement, right? Think about it, though. Imagine you're having a horrible day, and you really need someone to talk to. Would you rather go and confide in someone who doesn't appear to have any personality flaws, and who obviously has the whole thing figured out? Would you rather confide in someone who you recognize some of yourself in, who you can relate to through the fact that you know that have some similar, accepted personality flaws of their own?

I can't propose to know what any of you would actually respond to this question. I imagine that there will be some people who choose one, some who choose another. I think having accepting, and coming to terms with your personality flaws allows you to relate better to other people, to be a better, more understanding, more sympathetic and in-tune person, able to help others solve problems that you've recognized as issues in yourself. I think accepting and recognizing your own personality flaws also gives you goals to work towards, ways of betterng yourself and creating improvement that human beings frankly need. We need goals and purpose for the sake of motivation. Self bettermrent is a great provider of that.

mcurrie's picture

Hello everyone, another blog

Hello everyone, another blog coming up. So I'm first thinking about how to answer how you can't be lonely because there is no one to be lonely.  I guess maybe Eric had an out of body feeling where he understood that life is what you make it.  Maybe if you don't think about loneliness you cannot feel it.  If you don't define loneliness you can't experience it.  Or that Eric still has himself and his past to keep him company so everyone cannot be lonely because they are connected by memory or his thoughts.  Now on to the paper, so I know we have only two weeks left of class and have been trying to figure out the subject of my paper.  I have been going through my mind, how are all of these authors connected.  I know they all are a part of the evolution of science and lit and each evolves their own ways of looking at the past. Well maybe not so much Whitman but definitely Darwin, Dennett, and Hustvedt.  Although Whitman believes that he contains multitudes and some of those multitudes could come from past experiences since he experiences all things and becomes every person.  Maybe Whitman embodies the rest of the authors, brings them together as they all try to look at the past and find a pattern or explanation for themselves.  Now I just have to fit my little thoughts into a ten page paper.
Tara Raju's picture

The cracks that Magda feels

The cracks that Magda feels are "healthy" are absolutely that. They are central to all progression in technology, science, literary analysis, etc. It is out of the chaos of not everyone feeling, percieving and thinking in the same manner that the greatest ideas emerge. It takes men and women that believe in ideas that go aganist the grain in order for these ideas to emerge and develop- Darwin, Franklin, Einstein, among others. The right idea may not always come out of the "crack" but it allows for others to build upon or deconstruct it in order for something different to emerge. Uniformity is and never has been a concept that has brought about change.

Furthermore, I am not sure if I view the novel as an evolutionary text. It seems to be concensus that evolution has to create something new. The characters all experience evolution in their own right as a result of attempting to solve internal and external conflicts but is that not how most if not all fictional novels work? There has to be some type of conflict or issue that needs to be solved and it is the unraveling of these issues that allows for resolution. These characters change over time due to their observations but I just don't understand how this could be deemed an evolutionary text. In the most basic sense, we could view "The Polar Express" among other children's books as an evolutionary texts then.

unidentifiedflyingobject's picture

The appropriateness of Sorrows of an American

I still can´t decide how much I liked the Sorrows of an American as a novel. I think the closest I can come is to say that I liked and appreciated it, but I had a difficult time feeling really strong empathy for the characters. I also think it´s a little forgettable, that is, it didn´t leave me with any really strong feelings or any powerful message--in fact, it didn't even leave me with a strong feeling that life is anticlimatic.

I think selections from Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game, or maybe from Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, may be more beneficial for this course--both books mix the art of the novel with philosophy and the Glass Bead Game's theme of understanding how all subjects relate to each other are particularly relevant concepts in the course.

jrlewis's picture

reading to evolve thinking

In thinking about the evolution of this course, I looped back to Darwin.  His own intellectual evolution, from the time on the H.M.S. Beagle, to the theory of natural selection, to the humans and the mind.  It appears to me that we are following a similar path.  We read about the theory of evolution, its implications, and the human mind.  I love the pairing of Whitman and Hustvedt because so many concepts in The Leaves of Grass were made clear and explicit for me when reading The Sorrows of an American.  Whitman’s presentation contained many observations that were challenging to incorporate into a coherent story.  The combination of conscious storytelling and revision helped clarify the role of the unconscious for me.  Perhaps it is neither Whitman nor Hustvedt that was particularly appropriate to read, but rather the importance of the relationship between the two. 
ccrichar's picture


I think all of us humans have cracks that need to be cemented over or left open to receive new information.  Erik's discoveries about himself through one of his patients is probably a good thing because he is learning something new about himself and is seeking help from a mentor to process what his crack is.  I don't think there is anything wrong with discovering that you may have some cracks that needs exploring.
kbrandall's picture

Someone in professor

Someone in professor Dalke's thurday section (I'm sorry, Ive forgotten who) brought up All the King's Men as another novel with a similar quest for understanding the past. I read All the King's Men last year, and had been comparing it to The Sorrows of An American as I read-- but another thing brought up in class was an important difference between the two. Jack Burden, the narrator of All the King's Men, has an epiphany at the end about how to live with the past that changes his attitude (an evolution of character) In The Sorrows of an American there is no such epiphany or large change at the end.

That made me wonder how the lack of an epiphany or resolution was relevant to our theme of evolution. On one hand (as Pr. Dlke pointed out) it seems to be different from evolution-- part of the point of evolution is that it creates something new. On the other hand, the development of a novel which has no resolution is fairly recent in the history of literature-- that is one of the ways in which the  form of the novel is a change from previous previous forms. This lack of a resolution, a definite ending, could also be related to biological evolution in that it is a process without a definite endpoint. Like this novel, it just keeps going in a collection of small changes. This made the novel very frustrating for me to read, but maybe it also makes the story more like real life than most fiction. 

--According to Sontag, art's role is not to imitate life but to be something new-- so is this more "realistic" style necessarily a good thing?

Rica Dela Cruz's picture

I am not sure how

I am not sure how appropriate The Sorrows of an American was for the final text of this course. I do like the book and I think it was a good contrast from more dense readings we had throughout the semester, but I do not know if it really was the best book to close with in understanding evolution and its literary aspects. I think the problem I have is that I feel that every contemporary novel could provide an evolutionary interpretation and one could definitely find some link to evolution in almost any novel. It seems arbitrary to have chosen a novel based on the gender of the author being female because she wrote through a male perspective. How is this different from reading a male author? Are we looking at this in an evolutionary perspective? I guess one can say that this novel is a good example of evolutionary fiction since we have a female writing as the opposite gender, something one does not find authors doing often or ever. Is this one reason for choosing it? Another person in the class talked about how this book has no chapters. Could this another example for it being evolutionary fiction? Although these reasons may be true and there are probably many more reasons, are these really the best reasons for choosing the book as the final example of evolutionary fiction?

I feel like because we are in a class about the evolution of stories, we can be given almost any book and we will be able to interpret it as evolutionary fiction. Because of the fact we already know this a class about evolution, I feel that our brains will be able to mold anything so that it may be linked to evolution. Professor Grobstein said on Thursday that Moby Dick was another choice for the final text. Although I have never read Moby Dick, I know about it and have a good sense that it is very different from Hustvedt's book. I think it is interesting because if have been assigned Moby Dick instead, we would still have been able to find evolutionary aspects in it. I think there is no one best, final text for the course because any book would suffice. I think what is important to note is that the course itself is the evolutionary example. Because of all the choices of books students can be given to read, the course is what will evolve throughout the years and be the dominant example.
eolecki's picture

Week 12

This passage at the end of the book is very interesting to me.  At first I did not see it as Erik finding his “self” in a Whitman like sense.  I saw this as a way to say that if you are aware of yourself, you are going to be lonely. The way I interpreted this was that if there is no one then you can’t be lonely, if you aren’t aware of yourself then you won’t know you are lonely.  This is not a positive message: self-awareness leads to unhappiness.  But the more I thought about it, I reinterpreted it to mean that if you are too introverted you will be unhappy.  If the boundary between the inside and outside loosens, meaning if you are more aware of the outside then just what is on your inside than you can realize that there is more to life than just the loneliness you think you feel.  I think the ending message is there needs to be a balance between internal and external awareness, and that is Erik’s goal to happiness.  

Lisa B.'s picture

Week 12

The reasons for selecting this novel were more interesting than having to read it. The English department required an American female author, however the narrator could be a male? Why not just read a male author who would better interpret the societal "cracks" associated with his gender? "Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy," but Erik's personal temperament needs to be less feminine before I see a relationship between his "cracks" and those central to the practice of science. Maybe then I will finally realize the role of "The Sorrows of an American" in evolution.  
Jackie Marano's picture

Female author is good or bad?

      I actually was thinking a little about this myself. For example, I don't think it's reasonable to assume that all male authors would write one way, and all female authors would write another...but did we complicate things by switching to a female author after having our class evolve around the evolution of works by male authors? I don't think it ruins trends or ideas that we've been thinking about, in fact it probably enhances them. But I think it must influence the path of our discussion in some way (since the gender of the author was an important factor in the choosing of the work). And if it originally didn' I think it will. As a class, are we disappointed or pleased that we have ended our readings with an american female author because it had to be that way (for the sake of the course)?
Marina's picture

cracked- but its a good thing

When Magda describes the "cracks" as being healthy I agree with her and find that it parallels nicely with Prof. Grobstein's notion of the "crack" being valuable to the study of science. In both cases the crack brings new insight and exposure. This new insight then brings new ideas and innovations along with it. Cracks are important to keep ideas evolving and changing, without the crack scientific studies would be stagnant and isolated- would they even be worth doing without the crack? What would be the purpose of a scientific study without the crack? It seems like without cracks scientific study would be pointless, uninformative, and wouldn't really teach us anything about the world. The cracks in our personality that Magda refers to are different from the cracks in scientific study, but they work in the same way. Cracks in our personality also provide insight and new understanding, but the cracks are within ourselves whereas in science the cracks are within others (people with different backgrounds, beliefs, etc). The cracks within are just as important, though, as they provide new insight to ourselves rather than the world.
epeck01's picture

alone together

After reading the pg. 301 passage, I did not think twice about Erik's momentary change of mind.  Maybe this is because I often find myself in similar situations.  When one is stressed out, or just worrying in general (as Erik is throughout the book), I think it is natural to find moments of unity, clarity and humility.  Snow is so wide and all-encompassing that it creates a feeling of being alone in the world.  Coupled with being alone, comes the idea that everyone is alone, and therefore the oneness of being alone.  Erik feels alone throught the novel, so when he makes the fleeting realization that everyone is together in being alone, he is at peace for a moment.  Although I think this is a normal reaction to beautiful moments in nature, I think that it is fleeting and that sadly, Erik will soon be back to his normal lonely state.
amirbey's picture

A text linked to evolution

I don’t know if I can say that this book is evolutionary, but I clearly see that it is linked to evolution.  Indeed, at the beginning of this semester, we talked about Darwin’s theory of evolution and we saw that all actual humans have an ancestor in common and that we have to know our past in order to move on and keep on evolving.  I believe that this is what is happening in “The Sorrows of an American” since each character seem to be looking at their past in order to understand themselves better and hopefully then move on with their lives.  Erik for example is reading his father’s journal because he hopes to understand his own actions and thoughts better to know who he really is.  The only person how seems to be representing the future is Eggy, since she is young and has all her life in front of her.  However, after Eggy’s fall, her past might come to haunt her as she grows up…

eglaser's picture

not lonely in the snow

The passage you pulled out to discuss from page 301 about " there is no loneliness because there is no one to be lonely," reminded me of a short story I had read a few weeks ago. Written by Jorge Luis Borges it is called "The Aleph" and it has a moment which is similar to Eik's loss of loneliness. The aleph in the story is a point in a man's basement where you can see the whole world and everything tht ever was or will be in it. The man has to lay in a very specific position in utter darkness in order to see it  but when he does he losses all sense of himself and becomes a part of the world. 

Erik's feeling of losing the inside and outside barriers of himself is similar to this nirvana esque interaction with the world in Borges story. And in both you needed to dull the senses in order to acheive this state. We talked about how falling snow mutes sounds and isolates you. Borge's protagonist is similarly isolated by darkness and the barriers of a cellar door. Either way, this enlightenment is only acomplished by depriving yourself of sights sounds, of input of any kind. A strange sentiment, and one I am not sure I agree with, but the idea of both authors.