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Suffering and passion are both catalysts for the process of evolution.

LF's picture


“The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.” These are the words of the neurologist and psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. The multicultural aspect of the world we live in is what makes the world remarkable and diverse. Through our differences the process of evolution is able to continue and through this progression humans adapt to the culture. Freud argued that our civilization is controlled by Eros, a force that combines “human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind.” Inevitably, there are many disputes based on issues such as race, sex and religion. However, what we must appreciate is how far the western world has come in the past two centuries. In short, the evolution of culture has arisen from a process of struggles.


The Emancipation Proclamation was an order issued in1862 which came into effect on January 1, 1863 by Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. It pronounced the freedom of the slaves living in the United States of America. The central goals of the war were to restore the Union and abolish slavery. Similarly, the women’s liberation movement occurred around the same time, in the late 19th Century. Finally the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920 and shortly after in 1921, the American Birth Control League was founded. Without the voices of the Suffragettes it would have taken much longer for women to receive the right to vote. Similarly, without the voices of those who opposed slavery, that too would have been abolished much later. In the space of a few years society’s rules and cultural norms have evolved in a major way.


However, despite the positive cultural evolution in the western world, in other parts of the world such as Saudi Arabia, women are still unable to vote or to receive an education. If those women decided to unite and protest against the rules of their country, then their struggle will be heard and eventually their suffering will evolve into freedom. It is through acting against oppression and following the thoughts and beliefs of others that we free ourselves of our struggles. The same theory applies for more minor issues such as literature. Through Forster’s novel “Howard’s End” Zadie Smith was able to create her book “On Beauty”. She adapts certain themes in his novel, applying them to the modern day readers. The finished product is a story of her own that pays homage to Forster without stealing his ideas. Her book relates to her world and her beliefs even though it is based on something written before her time. This is cultural evolution through literature.


It is clear that Smith blames Howard for disregarding the significance of emotions and beauty. Her belief is that one must appreciate beauty as it appears to us, instead of obscuring something that is potentially so pleasing. Howard’s lectures strip Rembrandt of his romance and turn his paintings into something mechanistic. Howard presents Rembrandt as "neither a rule breaker nor an original" but instead "a merely competent artisan who painted whatever his wealthy patrons requested." Zadie Smith insists that art has a narrative, yet she creates a character who maintains that art is non-narrative. Art is not merely a representation of a moment unattached to any story, its beauty is the narrative that accompanies it. Howard’s subversive way of viewing the art he presents contradicts the beliefs of the author. Howard does not connect to anything, therefore his opinion and view is handicapped. The opinion that Smith portrays in this book is her representation of what beauty is and how is should be viewed. Through Howard’s human attributes she conveys to her readers how to evolve something that at first glance is motionless. She believes in the idea of narrative, the struggle to find something in someone else’s work. This is how culture, beliefs and society evolve. Without this feeling and passion the world would be static.


 Since most of our ideas are based on the people who thought before us; through their opinions we are able to disagree or agree and thus develop ideas of our own.: “Study the past if you would define the future”(Analects). Clashes in culture, race and sex are expected in a world as diverse as this, but without these battles we would be in a stand still. Where would the world be without conflict? Without suffering there would be no compassion and with out ugliness there would be no beauty. Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead stated: “It is the business of the future to be dangerous. ... The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur.”  As Robin Cooper states in his book “The evolving mind”, ideas, nations and technologies evolve, “indeed anything that changes”. Therefore, change is positive, but in order to change we must accept that there may me a struggle in order to do so.


Anne Dalke's picture

Catalytically speaking

I understand your claim, here, Lavinia, to be that we have to suffer in order to grow and change. I agree, and expect that most people would...

so where's the edge in the charge? And where's the data to back it up? You end with a range of short quotes from famous people, but what you need to develop in these essays are your own ideas, backed up with quotations from the text you're discussing.

You make a brief gesture towards two of the major changes in American history--the end of slavery, and the beginning of women's right to vote--but when you settle into the novels we are examining in this course, you are quite vague: what themes of Forster's novel does Smith adapt in hers? What modern day concerns does she apply to his plot? What's the difference between "paying homage" and "stealing ideas"? (See Becky's paper on plagiarism, and my commentary...)

I'm puzzled, too, by your report that Smith "insists that art has a narrative," a "struggle to find something in someone else's work." I actually think that she thinks the opposite--that we should "dwell in beauty," in the non-narrative; so I'd be especially interested in seeing some data--some quotes from the novel--in support of your argument.

That culture, beliefs and society evolve through the telling--and revising--of stories is the argument of this course: we need to tell stories in order to change them. But I'm not sure that's Smith's argument; in fact, I'd go so far as to say that she functions as a foil to it.