When reading Lieutenant Gustl by Arthur Schnitzler, modern rap music is probably not the first thing that’ll come to most people’s mind, but as I read the text I couldn’t help but be reminded of the song ‘GHOST!’ by Kid Cudi, released over a hundred years after Schnitzler’s classic. “Gotta get it through my thick head/I was so close to being dead, yeah” is how the song opens and Cudi continues by musing on the fact that he has continually failed to learn from his lessons in life. There is no sense of growth at the end as he seems convinced that people don’t understand him as well as being out of place in the world as a whole. Thinking about the two more thoroughly, I found myself pondering how many ideas that I share with artists that I personally admire and the connection that this creates with their work despite having never met or conversed with them in the flesh. There is something wonderful about the notion of Schnitlzer, a man of wealth and education, and Kid Cudi, a man who came from a working class family and had some run-ins with the law, sitting down to create two pieces of art that while on the surface are completely dissimilar, share many of the same tenets underneath.
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In my last paper for this term in Arts One, I went the feminist-y route (my preferred route 124856% of the time) and wrote about the problematic representation of women in “The Sandman” and “Little Snow-White” (particularly with the importance beauty and appearance rather than brains). I wanted to also write about “Earthquake in Chile” but, one, I was dying; and two, I didn’t have much material to work with in terms of appearance and beauty. But I thought I had a few decent points about “Earthquake…” so consider this like a “deleted scene” from my essay.
(Preface: I’m probably going to focus on Josefa here, and it will not be focused on beauty at all. Mostly just the problematic representation part.)
First of all, I thought it was interesting that they put Josefa in the convent when her family found out about her affair. It seems like it’s common practice for women to be put in a nunnery if they deviated from or went against social norms. In Josefa’s case, it’s a way for them to rein in her sexuality, by putting her in a place when chastity was enforced. And I’m a little confused about the timeline, but it seems like Jeronimo wasn’t put in prison until after he got Josefa pregnant? It’s very vague, but I understand it to be that Josefa was put in the convent, Jeronimo somehow (“through a lucky accident” (5)) got into the convent, got her pregnant, and was then put in jail. In that case, it rubs me the wrong way that Josefa was punished and restrained for her desires while Jeronimo wasn’t (until later). Product of the times, probably. Still.
Next, there’s this passage:
“In the streets along which the procession would pass, […] the pious daughters of the city invited their girl friends to attend the spectacle offered to divine vengeance at their sisterly side” (7)
Contextually, this is the part where they’re talking about Josefa’s execution. Strange how they make a point to only mention women when discussing Josefa’s punishment and how gleeful they seem to be to be witnessing the destruction of another woman. It reminds me of the Queen in “Little Snow-white” and how determined she was to cause the downfall of Snow-white because of her beauty. It’s representative of the competition amongst women to simply be better than one another. In the Queen’s case it’s beauty, but in this case, it appears to be about piety and purity – the “pious daughters” are more chaste than poor old Josefa. Of course, especially in the context of this story, chastity is important in religion. However, if we take the religious part of it out, it comes down to the male gaze (see tangent). Beauty and chastity are both traits that are valued for being desirable to men. With beauty and the Queen, sure it probably has something to do with vanity, but beauty is a very patriarchal thing. There are a lot of really interesting articles out there, but in terms of the male gaze, the beauty standards that women are condemned to are based on what is attractive to men (and it leads to the competition and comparisons, etc.) In terms of chastity, then – have you ever thought about the obsession society seems to have with virginity? Again, thanks patriarchy! It’s about purity and the fixation on wanting to imprint on women who haven’t been tainted by another man already (hard to explain without talking about all the other baggage, such as this superiority complex between men and women, and men and other men, the objectification of women, and the overvaluing of purity, and I really WANT to talk about it, but this is already a feminist rant with too many clauses so just go and read some articles. Just take my word for it for now and roll with it.) The competition in this case is the one in which the women here compare each other for chastity and for reasons that stem from the patriarchy (and religion).
(Tangent: I realized I could have WENT OFF about the male gaze in my essay when I got Christina’s comments back on it, especially with the focus on eyes in “The Sandman”. I totally could have linked beauty with the male gaze with Nathanael with the eyes being symbolic of the male gaze. Oh my god. Christina, can I rewrite. Please. This is too good to let go.)
Speaking of punishments, they first sentenced Josefa to burning (until it was changed to beheading, “much to the indignation of the matrons and maidens of Santiago” (7) – again, see above!). I’m assuming they would be burning her at the stake, as it’s the most popular burning method of punishment we know of that they did back in those days, which is usually associated with witch hunts. I did a veeery quick google search on punishment in the 17th century and stumbled upon this site, which listed burning at the stake as a popular method of punishment for “heretics, witches, and suspicious women”. I’m assuming for Josefa, it would be because she had a child prior to marriage – or giving in to sexual temptation to begin with – which would be heresy (so much to say about restraint of women’s sexuality and chastity here but I will hold off). Interesting to see that burning at the stake seems to be a way of punishment reserved for women though. Also interesting that there was no mention of a punishment or sentence for Jeronimo…
Further interpretations can be made about the presence of motherhood and gender roles in the story, but my thoughts in that area are kind of half-baked and not directed – although none of this, really, is directed. Take this as more of a musing about a few aspects of the story I wanted to think about more. I hope you can make some sense of it and maybe let me know what you think!
I’m always late for blog posts, sorry guys…heh heh – *nervously looks around for ways to escape*
The lecturer (I kinda forgot his name BTW) mentioned Ernst Mach and his views on this story, and well I wanted to focus my presentation on that. So he brought up Descartes and his statement on “I think therefore I am”, and I decided to research a little bit of Descartes because it was not left entirely clear to me what the lecturer was trying to get at…or more like I didn’t have notes on it, after all, just dropping a reference to descartes is a big thing.… But umm so yeah I went and did a little research on Descartes and turns out he was a big rationalist right, that solely trusted in nothing more than the human power of logic. He believed in the importance of grounding all of our ideas in individual experience and reason raher than authority and tradition. But then we are presented to this charatcter that seems to be doing exactly the opposite. All his beliefs seem to be grounded on anything but what is logical and is just someone that simply looks like a person who believes in the opposite of “I think therefore I am”… his existence seems to be solely dependent of what others think of him, like how honourable he is. We are presented to a character that really doesn’t follow through values Descartes would admire such as the clarity of thought, and introspection guided by sound arguments, which made me think how much this man was shaped by the society he was enveloped in and how much it had affected him. He just follows the social conventions blindly, so why introduce Descartes…THAT IS DA QUESTION
So I was wondering if there were traces of the individual in Lt Gustl and how these have a relationship between those thoughts that can be identified as reflections of his society, like those thoughts that are clearly influenced by his auhority. And well, my question is can we identify the two as separate, is there clues of the man at its core or do all his thoughts have traces of society influenced by austrian conventions? Does he really think and therefore is, or his existence solely dependent on his society? And there is this extra one, could we interpret his walking and introspection like almost as a subconscious Cartesian attempt to reveal the truth of one’s self?
In Hoffmann’s The Sandman, one of the most obvious aspects of the story that is brought to our attention is how much uncertainty the reader has about the events occurring in the story. The story depicts a young university student who is haunted by the memory of certain childhood events connected to the events of his father’s death. He is haunted by the seemingly malicious figure of Coppelius and it gradually sends him spiraling into psychological madness.
Personally as I read this story, it was noticeably chaotic. Although the narrator of the story is not Nathaniel himself, there is no sense of understanding the true events of what was occurring. At some point when I was reading the story, it was almost as if Nathaniel’s insanity was epidemic. There line between humans and automatons became blurry. It was hard to discern what was real and what was a hallucination. Even as we read about how Nathaniel falls madly in love with Olympia, his feelings feel so real that we begin to question the basis of their relationship. I found it deeply unsettling to read a story through this perspective. It had me reflect on personal dreams or imaginations that evoked a strong emotional response and the basis of where they stemmed from. Hoffmann alters the structure of the story to emphasize the uncertainty that the uncanny creates. I think that Hoffmann successfully proves a point; Humans are incredibly responsive to the concept of uncertainty. On some fundamental level, humans are deeply bothered by what they do not know, on what they can not understand. I think that this short story did a really incredible job of portraying that.
The style in which Lieutenant Gustl is written in is very interesting for a variety of reasons, but I think the most fascinating thing that Schnitzler does by getting into Gustl’s mind is exploring how the character perceives himself through the gaze of others. As we discussed in class, there are many instances of Gustl commenting on others looking at him, and by doing this, Schnitzler develops a very unique connection between the character and the audience.
I think we’ve all had moments, whether it be eating at a restaurant or riding a bus, where we’ve looked at someone or caught them looking at us and wondered what they think, if anything, about us. Just as we might have a certain opinion of someone we happen to focus on for a few moments, others obviously have the same of us in the reversed situation. I think this is one of the reasons why we can relate strongly to Gustl, because when the character thinks about how others may be perceiving him, regardless of the validity or rationality of these thoughts, we can see how we sometimes do the same thing. Despite what we may or may not believe, most of us do care, or are at least curious, about what others think of us. While it’s probably not on the same level as Gustl himself (unless you would consider killing yourself if a baker embarrassed you), I would guess that it is still there. This, in my opinion, largely accounts for why so many of us can empathize with Gustl, even though as whole, he’s not a very likable character.
I have found that we read, and I wrote, a lot on human nature, the state of nature, and man’s inherent tendencies to be good or bad… or neither. In thinking about what I believe is really true on this subject, I always end up thinking about it slightly more biologically than, say, Rousseau or Hobbes.
My first thought is usually that man’s primary objective must be to survive as a species. Man must survive and procreate. So therefor, we cannot be naturally evil. We cannot want to intentionally harm others and the human race. But then I debate that maybe our biological goal is less concerned with humans as a species and more concentrated on individual survival. Therefor, man would not inherently harm oneself and probably would not intend to act negatively towards others, unless their success as a human was at risk. So maybe it can be argued biologically that man is inherently competitive and filled with self interest for the purpose of survival. But I still generally chose to acknowledge man as inherently good with the intention of supporting mankind as a race.
I agree with most books we have read that man’s most innate tendency is that of self preservation. But, I guess the question to be answered is whether it is self preservation as an individual or self preservation as a member of a greater community… I don’t think there is an answer on the realities of human nature, but I do believe the only place we will find implications of an answer is in our biology.
A discussion we had in seminar that really stuck with me was the one about truth. We went off on a tangent trying to determine whether or not the truth is objective or subjective. This really stuck with me. I thought about it for a while and each time I’d come up with a theory, I’d compare it with something we’d already read to see if I had reached any particularly new conclusions. This is the conclusion that makes the most sense to me right now, without fully allying with a concept we’ve already studied:
I think that the truth is both subjective and objective. It’s confusing to think about, but the objectivity and subjectivity of any concept within our capabilities to discuss seems to always fall into a causality dilemma (like the chicken and the egg). So for you understand why I think this, I have to explain why I think the truth (or any concept) is objective and subjective at the same time. We start with a concept that is understood enough to gestate and further define, like the concept of fun. When fun is defined as something that is entertaining or pleasurable, this defined concept of fun is objective. However, because different people perceive the world differently, when the concept of fun is internalized, it comes to mean different things. For some it means reading, other drinking, others jogging etc. Even though all of these actions are definitively different, they are also still considered fun. So that, if, in the same room, a person was reading and another was dancing and a third was drinking, everyone in that room would be having fun. When everyone in The Fun Room is having fun, the definition of fun is relative to each person but also objectively defined as doing what it is they find entertaining or enjoyable. On a wider scale, if we look at initial objective definition of fun (the defined concept), we have to acknowledge that at one point this objective definition was a subjective one. Someone once decided that pleasurable or enjoyable things should be called “fun” and so they were when everyone adopted the objective definition and applied it subjectively.
This is hard to look at in terms of the truth because “truth” is a much broader concept. But I like to think about the truth in this way so that I don’t have to stay up all night (lol). But if everyone in the same room feels like they know the truth, then everyone in that room subjectively knows their internalized form of an objective definition of the truth. I can see how this seems the same as Plato’s idea of the Forms, but I don’t think it is. Believing in the forms implies that all things have a “correct” objectively defined concept. I don’t think this is true because I believe that any objective definition was at one point subjective and then made objective by popular consensus of it.
I’m not a philosopher (at all), so this probably has a lot of inconsistencies and details overlooked. Feel free to distort my conception of the world, though. Totally will not put me into crisis mode.
Lieutenant Gustl is a story written completely in interior monologue, and was the first novel of the sort to be published. In this style, the reader gets to know the setting solely as it is described by the protagonist, Gustl, and we are exposed to his views and biases. This story also differs from other stories in that the protagonist undergoes almost no character development throughout the course of the circular plot line – most of which is spent on the Lieutenant deciding to commit suicide after a confrontation that had many readers thinking, “well, that escalated quickly”. While it can seem that there is nothing going on in this story, there is actually a lot being said. Lieutenant Gustl is a character quite opposite from the author, Arthur Schnitzler, who was a Jewish Doctor who was involved in the military. With this in mind it is much easier to understand the satirical comments being made throughout the novel underneath its dark comedy.
All this being said, is Lieutenant Gustl an effective work of satire? Was this story an effective way for Schnitzler to convey his views of Viennese culture and anti-Semitism?
It says something about Lt. Gustl that the first thing it reminded me of wasn’t Catcher in the Rye (where I held equal contempt for the insufferable first-person protagonist), but American Psycho. The more I think about it, the more the two texts’ similarities multiply, and the differences diverge more radically.
The interesting similarity beyond the text is in the authors themselves. Schnitzler, a bourgeois Jewish man, doubtless had no love lost for the churlish officer class that Gustl represents, such as Bret Eason Ellis, a notoriously filterless social satirist, viewed yuppies with visceral disgust. Both Gustl and Patrick Bateman are inwardly prejudiced, devoid of substance and represent the worst qualities of their given spheres. The main difference is how far their respective creators go in attempting to prove this.
Both Gustl and Bateman have no sense of self, or at least very little. Both obsess over appearance – Gustl is nearly driven to suicide by the implications of a slight to his image, whereas Bateman pays impossible amounts of attention to his brand-name clothing and accessories (the book is more saturated with luxury product namedropping than Watch the Throne). Both Gustl and Bateman are professionally incompetent, with Gustl having pursued the military because he couldn’t succeed anywhere else, and Bateman working a very lucrative job in Mergers and Acquisitions, at a company owned by his father (not once does he actually appear to be working in the novel or the film). Gustl has little personality and Bateman, short of his gruesome proclivities, has none at all. They are composites of others’ opinions, and fuss constantly over their image because, without it, they have nothing. One may go farther, and say that they are nothing, although they constitute different species of void.
Gustl, simply put, is not evil. Crude, chauvinistic, insecure, daft and hypocritical, yes, but not sociopathic. Bateman, as the title of his story proclaims, very much is. Over the course of the novel, Bateman proves himself to be an adulterer, drug abuser, serial rapist and multiple murderer. He never once betrays any vestige of guilt over his actions, and very rarely any fear of being caught. His first-person narrative segues from idle reflections on Phil Collins and the coloration of his calling cards to cannibalism and necrophilia without warning. There is no relatability in Bateman’s actions – he isn’t a normal person who pursues increasingly horrific depravities because of oversaturated culture or class enabling (although both help him along). He’s the worst kind of twisted mind, without any vestige of humanity to his name. Nothing Gustl does is anywhere near as horrific as what Bateman does on a regular basis.
At the end of things, both characters are a means of satire, and to an extent both are effective. Lt. Gustl was controversial on its release, and despite the vast distance between the explicitness of its subject matter, American Psycho received about the same measure of consternation, which says a great deal about hermeneutic distance, and also just about impales observers on Ellis’s extremely pointed observations regarding desensitization. What scares me is how, looking back on them, both of these stories were immediate at their time, and despite their topicality do not lack for readability in 2015.
While discussing Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the purpose of poetry was brought into question. Arguments were made that, while having a degree of legitimacy in exploring meaningful underlying themes, the poetry of the book is likely to be over-analyzed in some cases. In dissecting the structure of the poems, the rhyming schemes of specific words, and among other intricacies, there may be evidence found that was unintentional by the author (in this case Blake). My main point of interest concerning this topic is the relationship between the value of textual evidence and the intention of the author.
Does the meaning behind the text come directly from the author or does it come from the perspective of the reader? If the reader pulls out a meaning supporting an idea had by the author when writing the text, but not evidence that was specifically by the author to support the idea, is the evidence still valuable?
This can also be applied to writings of novels to some extent. Are the ideas of the author the only one’s that govern the world they are depicting in their (lets say) fantasy novel? Or is it that once the words have been published they become something beyond the author’s control in a sense. That the words themselves are what hold the meaning and that the author was arranging them in an attempt to say something, but ultimately it is up to the reader to extrapolate what is valuable. I suppose the easy answer is that, to a degree, there is merit to both what the author intended and what the reader extrapolates. But that answer is more of a cop-out than a legitimate answer to the query. I think there is strong evidence to both, but I have yet to fully make up my mind.
Is the author the only source for meaning that is of value?
Or once a work has been published, can any meanings become valuable if well supported by evidence that is extrapolated?