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Post 1- 2/1/10: The Diary of Alice James
"These long pauses don't point to any mental aridity, my 'roomy forehead' is as full as ever of germinating thughts, but alas the machinery is more and more out of kilter.  I am sorry for you all, for I feel as if I hadn't even yet given my message.  I would there were more bursts of enthusiasm, less of the carping tone, through this, but I fear it comes by nature, and after all, the excellent Islander will ne'er be crushed by the knowledge of the eye that was upon him, through the long length of years, and the monotone of the enthusiast is more wearisome to sustain than a dyspeptic one." -Diary of Alice James, September 3, 1881
I feel this passage complicates a number of the conversations we have had in class surrounding this text.  One such complication (the most interesting, I think) is the reference in the above quote to "...you all..." which seems to indicate some sort of presumed audience on Alice's part, despite the inherent privacy of a diary. We had struggled in class last Wednesday when discussing how to read a diary, the merit of a diary as a historical and/or literary source, and for whom a diary is written.  I find that Alice has further confused me, because I cannot help but read the above excerpt without fully believing that Alice intended her diary to be read by others, which had never explicitly been indicated before within the diary, and also (in a sense) challenges the nature of a diary as something not to be shared with others.  Did Alice desire that her diary be read by others? Is this a symptom of her mental illness, that she is referring to a crowd that does not exist outside her own mind? Finally, is she being sarcastic and self-deprecating?  These possibilities are made more poignant (and frustrating) to me by the fact that they will never be clarified, as their source and their scribe are both deceased.
 
Post 2- 2/13/10: The Real Thing
In considering the requirement for The Real Thing, in which everyone was asked to choose some representation of James' story, I found myself thinking mostly about songs. The plot of the story is such that I found it difficult, at first, to find a fitting representation of the story. The authenticity of the Monarchs' aristocracy juxtaposed with their desperation for work, and the main character's decision to use lower-class models to represent roles that the Monarch couple inhabit naturally, didn't seem like themes that I would be able to find in a song.  However, (I'd like to think) I was wrong!
I began by searching my iTunes library for songs about people captured in photographs. I thought that, if I found a song about photographs, it might include something about the complexity of acting as a model. This led me to think about the model and the poses used by models for artists and photographers. It was then that I recalled a concert I attended freshman year, at which the performer sang a song about essentially posing for the role of a member of the elite. That performer was Rufus Wainwright, and the song, 'Poses,' strikes me as being about the ultimate failure of attempts to inhabit a societal role that is impossibly slippery. Rufus' lines about material items as symbols of status combined with the vocabulary of photography seemed to me to fit the story perfectly. Below I have included the lyrics to the song, as well as a link to a YouTube video of the song. The video is footage of a 2001 performance of the song, which means that the wardrobe and hair choices might be humorous. However, I see a great deal of worth in seeing the performer singing the piece live, as I think it adds yet another dimension to the meaning of the song. Viewing the performance is much like looking at a photograph, and the physicality of a performance reminds me vaguely of the notion of being seen, the concept of the gaze, and the scrutiny under which the Monarchs operated in James' story.
Poses- Rufus Wainwright
The yellow walls are lined with portraits
And I've got my new red fetching leather jacket
All these poses such beautiful poses
Makes any boy feel like picking up roses

There's never been such grave a matter
As comparing our new brand name black sunglasses
All these poses such beautiful poses
Makes any boy feel as pretty as princes

The green autumnal parks conducting
All the city streets a wondrous chorus singing
All these poses oh how can you blame me
Life is a game and true love is a trophy

And you said
Watch my head about it
Baby you said watch my head about it
My head about it
Oh no oh no oh no
Oh no oh no no kidding

Reclined amongst these packs of reasons
For to smokes the days away into the evenings
All these poses of classical torture
Ruined my mind like a snake in the orchard
I did go from wanting to be someone now
I'm drunk and wearing flip - flops on Fifth Avenue

Once you've fallen from classical virtue
Won't have a soul for to wake up and hold you

In the green autumnal parks conducting
All the city streets a wondrous chorus
Singing all these poses now no longer boyish
Made me a man ah but who cares what that it

And you said watch my head about it
Baby you said watch my head about it
My head about it
Oh no oh no oh no
Oh no oh no well you said
Watch my head about it
Baby you said watch my head about it
My head about it
Oh no oh no oh no
Oh no oh no no kidding
www.youtube.com/watch
 
 Post 6-  3/23/10:  William James' "Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results"
In the reading for tomorrow, one quote about philosophers leapt out of the page at me.
"[They are] ...blazes made by the axe of the human intellect on the trees of the otherwise trackless forest of human experience. They give you somewhere to go from. They give you a direction and a place to reach." 
While this does not necessarily explain or clarify James' later arguments within the same piece about spirituality, theism, or materialism (for example), but it stands out to me nevertheless. The very tangible image of axe marks ("blazes") left on trees in a forest as a metaphor for intellect's mark on the unnavigable forest of human experience is surprisingly moving.  I only say that it is surprising because I have yet to connect with William as I did with Henry or (most especially) Alice.  I was pleasantly surprised to have my thoughts provoked by a single image in William's text.  I am starting to see the mind the way I imagine William James did... the burbling stream of consciousness...

the somewhat less ostentatious, less noticeable stream of habit... (complete with fisherman)...

 
the trees in the forest of human experience...

 
and the blazes of axe marks on some of the trees, like trail markers for those who come after...

I find that the ecosystem that is growing around William James' arguments and metaphors is one that I am much more willing to inhabit than I expected.
 
 
FINAL POST: 4/28/10: Alice James' (Fictional) Commencement Speech, Bryn Mawr 1891
 
Julia Lewis and Weezie Lauher
House of Wits: Professor Anne Dalke
Final Presentation
April 28, 2010
 
 
Alice James’ Commencement Speech, Class of 1891
 
(JULIA)
Bryn Mawr College Graduates and Distinguished Guests:
I came upon some difficulty when I received the invitation to deliver a commencement address, not the least of which had to do with the notion of being a guest at an intellectual institution for women without ever having been a scholar at one. The thought of addressing the female graduates of a College having never experienced the thing for myself seemed blasphemous at best, for what inspiration can I provide for the educated woman? Nevertheless, the honor of this request was not lost on me, and I shall proceed with every good intention, for I find that, while I was never a scholar at an institution such as Bryn Mawr, I have some experience in the tutelage of women and its endless benefits. You see, I was once an instructor of young women, in the field of history with the Society to Encourage Studies at Home. I taught at this institution, a Boston-based correspondence school for women, nearly twenty years ago, from 1873-1876. I know this is no Bryn Mawr, but I did reap the benefits of the scholarly life; I formed an intellectual friendship with a fellow instructor, Katharine Loring. I will admit, having never had the pleasure of a sister, it was only then that I began to see the benefit of friendships with women, and I must say that forging this relationship with her is one of the most important accomplishments of my life, as she is my intellectual equal and constant companion, and I enjoy her company above all others’.
(WEEZIE)
As Katharine and I managed to form such a relationship at a much smaller, less intellectually unrelenting institution, I can only imagine the friendships that Bryn Mawr can facilitate. I imagine it must be one of this institution’s greatest values. This college is collecting a class of highly intellectual young women who will not only make contributions to academia, but to the lives of one another. Believe me when I tell you all that friendship is one of the purest things in this world, and as such I implore you to treasure your fellow students, greet each rising class with grace and a sense of welcome, and do not forget those who have gone before. Your time at Bryn Mawr College is precious, and is an experience you will never have again, and friendship is the greatest way to perpetuate the influence of this institution on your life. So long as you have the friends you made here at Bryn Mawr, you will never truly depart from this institution, and it will never lose its value in your life.
 
(JULIA)
I may not have what you all would consider an education, but I do consider myself intellectually inclined, and I trust that, although our experiences are different, my mind is somewhat similar to yours (although my brother William would viciously disagree). As such, I will endeavor to bestow upon you a few words of wisdom from a life lived in intellectual pursuit. One of the greatest benefits of my lack of education has been what I call  “…exquisite moments of mental flatulence which every now and then inflate the cerebral vacuum with a delicious sense of latent possibilities--of stretching oneself to cosmic limits…” I have a notion that, in the pursuit of education and relative knowledge, one gives up the reality of dreams. I cannot speak to whether this reality has already fled for you all, but if it has not, I beg of you to hold tight to it. It is one of the more comforting mental exercises I have found.
 
(WEEZIE)
I can tell you with great certainty that you are graduating into the world in which I live, in which social graces override intelligent conversation and gossip abounds, and I must say that it gives one a great sense of superiority “…to escape reading some book which everyone else is reading.” This may seem a terse example, but what I endeavor to do is illustrate to you all the importance of pursuing your intellectual interests, regardless of those around you. You will find the world is filled with “those poor creatures who never find their bearings, but are tossed like dryed leaves hither, thither and yon at the mercy of every event which o'ertakes them...who never dimly suspect that the only thing which survives is the resistance we bring to life and not the strain life brings to us.” Save yourselves from this wretched fate. Bryn Mawr has equipped you with the tools to live intelligently; your only charge is to keep them from rusting. “I remember so distinctly the first time I was conscious of a purely intellectual process...the higher nature of this appeal to the mind...and I can also feel distinctly the sense of self-satisfaction in that I could not only perceive, but appreciate this subtlety, as if I had acquired a new sense...whereby to measure intellectual things...” If you experience this intellectual process as I do, and I imagine you all do, you will already know how precious it is.
 
(JULIA)
 Apart from reading, I have found recently that writing is an equally effective way to stoke the intellectual fires. I found that getting “…into the habit of writing a bit about what happens, or rather doesn't happen, [helped me] lose a little of the sense of loneliness and desolation which abides with me...I at least have it all my own way and it brings relief as an outlet to that geyser of emotions, sensations, speculations and reflections which ferments perpetually within my poor old carcass...” I must regretfully inform you, ladies, that while this is not a fate that awaits you all, there is a chance you will experience the world as I do, as a place which has no place for me in it. I have found, however, a great deal of comfort in intellect. “It fills one so, at moments, with gratitude, that fate has placed one just above the line of intellectual penury, ...[with] little scraps left over, as we have for a further movement... stored for the new to catch onto and lodge....Think of having to grub and grind all the long days...with...none of the joys of reflection!”
 
(WEEZIE)
Bryn Mawr College has given you opportunities that you cannot imagine. I can imagine them, of course, having not been so blessed as you all. I have bemoaned the world to you all in these last few pages, not in an effort to scare you, but simply to show you how much changing the world needs. Women such as you require a world that reflects Bryn Mawr, this wonderful hub of female intellect. I have endeavored to show you that the tools you need to shape the world into a place that values the accomplishments of intelligent women are in your very hands. I wrote once that I found it “…amusing… to see the fixed mosaic of one's little destiny being filled out by the tiny blocks of events, the enchantment of minute consequences with the illusion of choice weathering it all!” I wrote this having never experienced the intellectual stimulation, the validation of my intelligence, and the encouragement from female peers that I can only imagine every Bryn Mawr graduate experiences once, if not daily. I cannot fathom what I could have done in the world with the toolbox Bryn Mawr issues in the form of a diploma. Perhaps my life would have been very much the same as it is now, I cannot be sure. I do know that the “cud of past contemplations” that inhabits my “many aesthetic stomachs” would taste much sweeter as I chew and re-chew it. Again, I implore you, use these tools. Shape the world you are entering, rather than permitting it to shape you. If you succeed, and I imagine you might, someday another commencement address will not need to warn you of the world, but rather gleefully inform you that the world is, in fact, very much like Bryn Mawr after all.
 

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exsoloadsolem's picture

Day 4: The Diary of Alice James

"These long pauses don't point to any mental aridity, my 'roomy forehead' is as full as ever of germinating thughts, but alas the machinery is more and more out of kilter.  I am sorry for you all, for I feel as if I hadn't even yet given my message.  I would there were more bursts of enthusiasm, less of the carping tone, through this, but I fear it comes by nature, and after all, the excellent Islander will ne'er be crushed by the knowledge of the eye that was upon him, through the long length of years, and the monotone of the enthusiast is more wearisome to sustain than a dyspeptic one." -Diary of Alice James, September 3, 1881

I feel this passage complicates a number of the conversations we have had in class surrounding this text.  One such complication (the most interesting, I think) is the reference in the above quote to "...you all..." which seems to indicate some sort of presumed audience on Alice's part, despite the inherent privacy of a diary. We had struggled in class last Wednesday when discussing how to read a diary, the merit of a diary as a historical and/or literary source, and for whom a diary is written.  I find that Alice has further confused me, because I cannot help but read the above excerpt without fully believing that Alice intended her diary to be read by others, which had never explicitly been indicated before within the diary, and also (in a sense) challenges the nature of a diary as something not to be shared with others.  Did Alice desire that her diary be read by others? Is this a symptom of her mental illness, that she is referring to a crowd that does not exist outside her own mind? Finally, is she being sarcastic and self-deprecating?  These possibilities are made more poignant (and frustrating) to me by the fact that they will never be clarified, as their source and their scribe are both deceased. 

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