Okay, I am probably not that good at working out who the killer is in a mystery novel (not that I havTurns out the bulter didn't do it 25 January 2015
Okay, I am probably not that good at working out who the killer is in a mystery novel (not that I have read all that many, and this is the first ever Agatha Christie novel that I have read) but I was convinced that the bulter was the culprit right up until he landed up with an axe in his head. Mind you, I probably should have clicked on to the fact that the culprit would have had to have been a lot more intelligent and have access to a lot more information that the butler could ever have (and I was probably spending more time trying to work out how the butler knew all of these dark secrets). One of the reasons that I suspected the butler is because 'the butler did it' is such a well worn cliché, and this is one of Christie's most famous books, that I suspected that this is where the cliché began (because they all have to begin somewhere, don't they?). However, it turns out that the cliché began with a book called The Door by Mary Roberts Reinhart. Anyway, enough of that and onto to book itself, not that I can really say all that much about this book because if I were to I would have to hide the entire review because of spoilers (and that is something that I don't like doing) and I really don't want to give anything away because this is one of those books that would completely spoil it for people who have not read it (namely because the book is actually more of a suspense/thriller as opposed to a murder mystery, and the suspense simply would not work if you knew what was going on). Anyway, the story is set on an island (I read the non-politically correct version because that was the version my parent's owned, but I believe the PC version calls the island 'Solider Island') where ten people all come together because they all received an invitation, and on the first night a record played on a gramophone reveals that each of these people had committed a murder some time in their life and the reason that they are here is because justice is finally going to be done, at which point one of them falls dead after drinking a glass of brandy. So, what we have is a story in which the people on the island drop dead one by one, all killed in a way (and in the same order) as a nursery rhyme that sits on a mantle piece, all the while trying to work out who the murderer is. Mind you, all is revealed in the end, which I found a bit disappointing, because it probably would have worked much better if the book finished off as a complete mystery. Anyway, the story is about justice and about justice being metered out by somebody against a group of people who are responsible for another person's death. I don't like using the word murder though because murder is very specific – it is the intentional depriving of somebody's life and requires a number of elements (such as malice aforethought, which is the intention to kill that person). The problem is that not all deaths occur in that way, and in this book I'm not sure if any of the deaths that these people were responsible for could have been a murder. Okay, the intentional depriving somebody of life sustaining medication could be considered murder (though it would be hard to prove), as well as a judge directing a jury to find a defendant guilty of murder even though the case against the defendant suggests otherwise (and while not murder in the strictest of sense, it is clear that the judge, in this particular case, was no timpartial and one could consider him to be guilty of abuse of process). A doctor who stuffs up an operation due to being drunk is not a murderer, but probably shouldn't be a doctor due to gross medical negligence. A hoon driver that runs over and kills somebody is not a murderer, but probably should not be allowed to drive, however it could be argued that a general sending somebody on a suicide mission because he has a grudge against this person could be. Anyway, the common theme with these characters is that each and every one of them were responsible for somebody's death however the law was incapable of stopping them, so the self-styled executioner decides to do something about it and declares them all guilty of murder, and proceeds to implement the penalty. Okay, while that part of us that desires to see justice done may jump up and applaud such a person, the question always arises as to whether we have the right to do so. Okay, our legal system may not be perfect (far from it) however it is designed in a way to make sure that we are only ever sending guilty people to gaol (or to the gallows, as is the case with this book). Some suggested that it is better for 10 guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to go to gaol (or the gallows in this case because once somebody's life is taken there is no reversing it, at all). However, we do have a system of law to determine who is guilty of a crime and who is not, and even if somebody were to get away with murder, they still have to live with the fact that they have blood on their hands....more
This is one of those books that I have known about for quite a while but never got around to reading iTime for a Good Old Book Burning 7 February 2016
This is one of those books that I have known about for quite a while but never got around to reading it until quite recently. In fact it wasn't until I was browsing a bookshop in Sydney that I came across a copy of it, and it didn't take me all that long (in fact it was instantaneous) to add this book to the pile that I was already planning on purchasing (and the owner was pretty impressed that it took me less that a couple of minutes to have made my selection – I'm a bit like that in bookshops). Anyway, I first heard about this book when I was a kid, namely because there was an adventure game for the Commodore 64 with the same name (and I had no idea what it was about at the time). However, seeing it sitting on my bookshelf for the last couple of months finally prompted me to take it down and read it.
Anyway, I'm sure many of you know what this book is about – a future society where books are illegal and there is an elite squad that goes out raiding houses they believe have a secret stash of books, and then burn the house, the books, and arrest the occupants. Not surprisingly this elite squad are called the fireman, though unlike the firemen of today their job is to start fires, not put them out. The reason for this is because houses don't burn down anymore, unless they are given a bit of a push by the fireman (who run around with flamethrowers by the way).
The protagonist of the story, Guy Montag, happens to be a fireman and one day he is out for a walk (which is also technically illegal because people who walk tend to think, and thinking is bad) when he meets a young lady named Clarice. This encounter changes his life and instead of burning books he starts collecting them. However his little hobby (which is very much on the illegal side) soon gets him into trouble, and he very quickly finds himself on the run. Mind you, being a fireman gives him a bit of an advantage because he actually knows all of their tricks and tactics so he is able to avoid them.
Okay, the modern world may not be anywhere like Bradbury's world, however one of the ideas behind this book was that he could see it heading this way, especially with the advent of the television. The thing with the television is that as a form of mass media it can very easily be used to control the thoughts and beliefs of the population. Cinema plays the same role, and in many cases the only things that we see on television is that which the government and industry wants us to see. The thing is that the cost to set up television stations, and to also produce content, is prohibitive, meaning that only governments, and major corporations, are able to do so.
However we are beginning to see the power of the mass media provider under attack with the rise of the internet. In fact these days anybody with a smartphone, a computer, and an internet connection, can create content. However the catch is that there is so much content out there that it can be really difficult attracting people to view (or read) it. Still, the power of the internet is able to undermine the dominance for the mass media providers, however we still have a problem in that the infrastructure is controlled by powerful corporations who are constantly seeking the power to restrict access to sites that they don't particularly like (through undermining concepts such as Net Neutrality).
As for books, well people still read them, and it isn't illegal to own your own library, however there is still some subtle pressure against people who spend too much time reading books. For instance it seems to be okay for people to walk down the street reading their smartphones, however do that with a book and you seem a little odd. Also, while I feel comfortable reading books in the inner-city pubs and bars, when I go out to the suburbs I begin to feel out of place. In fact while I may not have been hugely challenged, I do tend to attract the wrong sort of attention. However, things have always been like that, and in the past intellectuals generally didn't wander into working class pubs and sit in a corner and read a book. Another thing that struck me is that I am surprised nobody has ever come up to me in one of those pubs and ask if they could buy any drugs – I don't know but reading a book in a working class pub makes me feel as if I'm a drug dealer of sorts.
So, I guess the question arises – why do they burn books. Easy – books and cheap to produce and distribute, and it can be very difficult to control the content. While the television stations acted as gateways for content, anybody with a type writer and photocopier can produce literature. In fact with the rise of mass publication also saw the rise of underground newspapers, something you still see very much today. Printing also allows rebellious ideas to be spread – Martin Luther did that with regards to the reformation – at it also has the ability to undermine government control. Books make us think, and thinking is dangerous because it means that we question authority and realise that we have a choice to say no. The ruling class does not like people saying no, or challenging their authority, which is why in the past (and in many cases still are) book burnings....more
The personal journey of a man searching for God 7 September 2014
Saint Augustine, at heart, is a theologian, and the problem I find with most theologiaThe personal journey of a man searching for God 7 September 2014
Saint Augustine, at heart, is a theologian, and the problem I find with most theologians is that much of their work tends to be dry and academic, and Saint Augustine is no exception. However in his Confessions we encounter a completely different side, at least in the first nine books. Saint Augustine, one of the theological pillars of the Christian faith, opens up his heart, and his past, for all to see in what could be considered to be one of the world's first autobiographies (or at least the earliest one that we have because others were probably written, it is just that they did not survive the thousand years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the modern age. Augustine is not the first writer to open up his heart for the world to see because others have done that, in particular King David, as we clearly see from his psalms. Paul the Apostle also gives us glimpses into his personality, and we can also feel the pain and the anguish coming out of his letters. However what Augustine does in his confessions is that he sets aside this book to let the readers know who he is and where he came from. What we also get out of this book is honesty. Augustine is honest about his failings, and he is honest about the life that he used to lead and the struggles that he faced. Yet despite all of this he still comes down to us as one of Christianity's greatest theologians. When I am speaking about the Confessions I am generally focusing on the first nine books (or chapters if you will). It is here that Augustine takes us on a journey from his birth to the death of his mother, and his intellectual and spiritual development during this time. In a way it seems as if C.S. Lewis followed Augustine's lead when he wrote Surprised by Joy as Augustine also seems to focus on his intellectual development, however, unlike Lewis, he also focuses on his short comings as well. Augustine tells us how, as a child, he was more interested in playing than he was in learning, but it makes us wonder what it was like to be a child in the later Roman Empire. These days it is fine for children to play, and in a way it is encouraged. This was not always the case. However, in our society there is time for play and there is time for learning, and I suspect that what Augustine is writing about is how all he wanted to do as a child was to play as opposed to learning. One of the confessions that Augustine admits seems to reverberate with numerous people. I remember reading this book at Bible college, and also a couple of years before, and I clearly remember the story about the pear tree. In fact at Bible college this story seemed to stand out to quite a few people in the class. As Augustine tells us, when he was a teenager he and a group of friends go and steal pears from a neighbour's pear tree, but they are not stealing the pears to eat, but rather to throw away. Obviously there is some cultural aspect to this story since this was before the age of the refrigerator meaning that the only way to store fruit was to leave it on the tree, and even then you could only leave them for a period of time before they would become over ripe. In another sense it is just waste, and waste in the sense that this food could have been eaten however it has been destroyed and is now utterly useless (however it also makes me wonder about the enormous amount of waste that comes out of our supermarkets these days). The last four chapters can easily be ignored because they seem to move away from his personal struggles and into theology. In away it is a complete turn from what came about in the rest of the book. In book 10 Augustine speaks about memory and how he believes memory works, and then moves about to examine other areas of scripture such as the Genesis account. I never realised that this last section even existed until I read the back cover of my edition which says: this edition … consists of books 1-9. The last four books are here omitted since they do not form an integral part of the [auto]biography. Upon discovering that there were four books missing I immediately started trawling the internet looking for a complete copy, and ended up finding one here....more
I am surprised that it has taken me this long to actually get around to re-reading this play so as to write a coA question of tyranny 3 September 2014
I am surprised that it has taken me this long to actually get around to re-reading this play so as to write a commentary on it considering that it happens to be one of my favourite Shakespearian plays. The copy that I own belonged to my uncle and the notes that have been scribbled into the book indicate that he read it when he was in high school. A part of me is jealous that he actually got to study this play whereas I was stuck with Hamlet. However, as I think about it I am glad that I never ended up studying this play because if I had I probably would not have enjoyed it as much. If there is one thing that I do not like about this play it is the 1970 movie starring Charlton Heston as Mark Antony and Jason Robbards as Marcus Brutus. The reason that it leaves a black mark on a rather brilliant play is because of Jason Robbards' American accent. In fact, the accent is so bad that it completely destroys the movie. Another thing that I have noticed about the Shakespearian adaptations around time the movie was produced is that they tend to use the historical setting as opposed to the more recent adaptations which tend to bring the play into the modern world. Ever since the release of this version of Richard III:
I have been hoping that they would do something similar with Julius Caesar. They did it with Coriolanus, and there does seem to be a Julius Caesar that was produced in 2002, but I have yet to see one where they have tanks, artillery, and Apache Gunships sweeping over the battlefield in the last act.
Still, it seems that there have been a number of high profile actors playing the role of Mark Antony:
Anyhow, enough of my venting my desire to see a modern rendition of Julius Caesar, complete with Apache Gunships, and let us consider the play itself.
Historical Context Julius Caesar is considered by modern scholars to be a problem play. Initially I haven't really seen anything all that problematic about it. While it is an historical play, it is also a play that demonstrates Shakespeare's maturity as a playwright. However, looking at the historical context of the play one needs to consider the fact that there are two contexts that we need to consider: that of the period in which the play was written and performed; and that of the period in which the events were set. The play itself is clearly a play that could be considered political in nature, even though it is a tragedy, however, as is clear, it has been based upon historical events. The sources of the play are numerous and include Plutarch's Life of Julius Caeser, Life of Mark Antony, and Life of Marcus Brutus, as well as Lucan's Pharsalia (the full text of which can be found here). I will first look at the historical setting of the play (Ancient Rome) itself before looking at the context of the period in which the play was performed (Elizabethan England).
Ancient Rome I hope we all know about the story of Julius Caesar, a Roman general who rose to become the foremost power within the Roman Empire and at his height was struck down by his peers in the Roman Senate, and whose best friend was among the conspirators. However we need to ask why it was that they did that because to our modern eyes it would seem absurd. This was not a case of assassination like what happened to John F Kennedy, where he was assassinated by a lone gunman (if that is what you believe), but rather it would be like Barrack Obama walking into Congress and all of the Republican representatives drawing guns and proceeding to shoot him. This is something that simply does not happen, so the question is why did the senators kill him when they surely would have expected retribution. This thing was, and its comes out of the play, is that they first of all did not expect retribution. The Senators were the government and in one sense what they were doing was taking down a political opponent. This happens all the time in our modern democracies. In fact we see this occurring quite often, such as what happened to the Australian Labor Party in the last federal election, with certain newspapers clearly stating their political position on the front pages:
These days politicians tend not to resort to murdering their opponents in cold blood: rather they prefer to destroy their reputation. The second reason the Roman Senators did this was because there was a belief that Julius Caesar had become a tyrant (and whether he was a tyrant is a separate argument in an of itself, which I will touch upon later) and it was seen to be the duty of the people in a democracy to resist a tyrant. Once again we see this happening today, though the definition of a tyrant can be quite vague. However, nobody would argue that this particular person was not a tyrant:
Though whether this particular person could be considered a tyrant is another story:
I suspect that these people don't really consider him to be a tyrant:
but they certainly don't like him (and I must say I never saw as many protests as this when Julia was Prime Minister – just a couple of people waving placards screaming 'Juliar' and 'Ditch the Witch' – and look who is at the front):
Elizabethan England Well, I seem to have written a bit with regards to the Roman period so I feel that maybe I should jump over to Elizabethan England to have a look at what was going on then. Well, England had had a relatively stable government for over a century (ignoring the disruption between the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I), particularly in the last fifty after the ascension of Elizabeth I. However this period was coming to an end because it was quite obvious that Elizabeth was getting old and no successor had been named. There was also the case that Elizabeth was not the most popular of monarchs among a certain portion of the population but the threat of the throne being usurped was now somewhat past. Shakespeare had already written a number of plays covering a period of significant instability within England which culminated with the War of the Roses, and out of the ashes had arisen the Tudor dynasty which had not only brought England into the modern age, but had created a stable government. Yet there was always the threat that this government could collapse and return to the period of anarchy that Shakespeare would regularly return to that theme. Now, unlike Rome, England was not a democracy, nor was it a republic, so the idea of resisting a tyrant did not have the same effect that it would have had in Ancient Rome, or even today. As you are probably aware the monarch was in effect a tyrant. Yet, it is likely that the view of a tyrant differed in those days as it does now. England was a relatively liberal society. They had undergone a reformation and Elizabeth allowed parliament a certain amount of freedom. While England was not necessarily in a position that it was in today, there was some form of religious and economic freedom. As such the threat of a tyrant in this period was not so much installing oneself as a dictator, but rather undermining religious freedom and moving to sideline the fledgling parliament.
Assassination It is clear that Julius Caesar is an incredibly violent play. In fact the act of assassinating Caesar is an incredibly violent act in and off itself. During this part of the play Shakespeare clearly focuses on the blood – in fact there appears to be quite an excess of blood flowing out of this scene. However, the violence does not end with the assassination, but rather it continues with Mark Antony crying out 'cry havok and let slip the dogs of war'. Caesar was marked as a tyrant by the conspirators, and as a tyrant it was up to them to resist him, however things did not turn out as expected. This was Shakespeare's warning, namely that by assassinating the tyrant was not going to free the people, but rather it was going to have the opposite effect. Notice how after Caesar is killed two things occur: 1) Octavian enters the play and becomes more and more dominant and by the end has taken the mantle of Caesar. In fact Octavian has the last line in the play. 2) While Caesar may be dead, he in effect does not die. Instead returns as a ghost and interacts with the characters in this form. Thus, what has happened is that the conspirators have not ended the tyranny, but rather have perpetuated it. Caesar is offered the crown three times (reflecting the offer to take up the mantle of the monarch) and three times Caesar rejects it. True, Caesar had just defeated his political enemy (though what differs from the actual events is that Caesar did not kill Pompey – Pompey was assassinated by somebody else who was then punished by Caesar because while he and Pompey were enemies, Caesar did not wish to see his enemy dead) and it appeared that he was now master of Rome – in fact he was offered that position: but he refused. However, by assassinating Caesar what the conspirators have done is not only have they sped up the process of moving Rome from a Republic to a dictatorship, but they have also released Caesar from his physical form. The nature of the ghost is not so much that Caesar has become undead, but instead represents the idea that by dying Caesar has ceased to be human and has now become a legend. His assassination actually worked in his favour because by dying he has become greater. Further, the assassination also paved the way for Octavian to take the mantle of Caesar, as is seen when Mark Antony begins to refer to him as such (ignoring the fact that Caesar is his surname, not his title).
Julius Caesar There are a few things that should be discussed about the main character because even though he dies halfway through the play, he is still the character around which the entire play is focused. It was interesting to read that there was a change in the idea of Caesar between the Medieval Period and the Renaissance. Medieval thought portrayed Caesar as a hero, somebody to aspire to and to look up to, whereas Renaissance thinkers began to see him as a tyrant. Some have suggested that this was the case with Shakespeare, but that is not my position. My main argument is that Caesar rejects the crown, and there was never any clear indication that he would not have stepped down after a period of time (as Sulla did). However, another aspect we need to consider is that Caesar was a populist, as can be seen throughout the play. While the conspirators are able to convince the people that the assassination was a necessity for a short time, Mark Antony was able to sway them back to his side. It is not just that he was a good speaker, but rather that he was able to touch upon a part of the ordinary people that swayed them to back his position. Even in Shakespeare's time we see support for Caesar among the common people that was not seen among the intellectual classes. Further exploration of the historical facts also indicates that his assassins were supporters of the patricians (though we must remember that Caesar himself was a patrician, though his family did have humble beginnings). To put it in a modern context, the conspirators were akin to members of the Republican Party, while Caesar and his supporters were Democrats. While there was no left/right designation back in those days (that designation came about from the French Revolution), the struggle between those who support the common people and those who believe that the well being of the common people will arise from the support of the wealthy was still being played out.
Marcus Brutus I want to finish off with a few words about Marcus Brutus, though it appears that I have written quite a lot anyway. The reason that I wish to make mention of Brutus is because I believe the play is actually his tragedy. The title of the play is 'The Tragedy of Julius Caesar' but I do not believe that Caesar is the tragic hero in the play - it is Brutus. One thing about Brutus is that his ancestor is famous for removing the last King of Rome, Tarquin, and founding the Republic, and thus he comes under pressure to follow in his ancestor's footsteps in this perceived crisis. The problem is that Brutus is Caesar's friend, which makes the struggle that he faces even greater. Thus comes the idea of whether it is right to commit a wrong if a greater good may result. However, as I have argued, it is possible that Caesar was not a tyrant, therefore the act of participating in the assassination did not bring about a greater good (which in the end it didn't). The other aspect of Brutus' character is his legacy. In Dante's Divine Comedy we discover that Brutus lurks in the bottom layer of hell, along with Judas Iscariot, not just for the crime of murder, but for the crime of betraying a close friend. The name of Brutus (and there is a lot with regards to names in this play, and their importance) has also been forever tarnished. In fact, for me, whenever I hear the name Brutus, I immediately think of this guy:
This was the last book on the English I curriculum and while I am undecided as to whether I actually read iA young man returns to his home 27 Aug 2014
This was the last book on the English I curriculum and while I am undecided as to whether I actually read it (namely because when you get to that end of the year the last books on the reading list tend to be the ones that get dumped in favour of study for the pending exams) I did have a tutor that would throw students out of the class if they had not read the novel, and he seemed to have a sixth sense in knowing whether they had read it or not (and while this was in the days before Wikipedia, or Sparknotes, though there were still Cliff Notes available).
Anyway, after reading a synopsis of this book my memories do come back to me, and the boredom that I encountered upon reading the synopsis pretty much reflects the boredom that I faced when I was reading the book. Okay, maybe it is one of those classic pieces of literature, described as one of Hardy's most powerful novels, but, to be honest, it was not really something that interested me. Also, the Adelaide University English Department, when they deconstructed a text, at that time had a habit of putting me off the book, despite the fact that years later I have come to appreciate, and even accept, the nature of deconstruction.
Now, since we had read a number of books about natives during the semester, such as Beat not the Bones, Things fall Apart, and The Heart of Darkness, I was expecting that a book that carried the title of 'Return of the Native' was going to be a rollicking adventure story about a native man, such as this guy:
having been captured by some evil slavers and taken abroad, manages to escape from his captivity, and after numerous harrowing adventures, returns to his home village, much like this one:
However, not surprising (considering we were not studying such books in the course) it had nothing to do with indigenous populations, but rather about a Welshman who lived in Paris, looking much like this 19th Century English Gentleman:
returning to his home in Wales, which probably looks like this place:
though I am only speculating here because I can't remember that much about the novel, except that my expectations of a rip-roaring adventure novel were foully dashed.
However, I did mention above something about a member of an indigenous tribe returning to his home village, and I suspect that this is why this novel ended up falling onto the English I reading list: namely because it is about an indigenous man, in this case a Welshman, returning to his home village, which happens to be in Wales. Maybe this is an example of post-colonial literature in that what Hardy is doing is demonstrating to us that natives are not necessarily coloured people living in societies that are not as technologically advanced as ours, but can also apply to the average Englishman since they are technically indigenous to England (though when you go back about a thousand years you do discover that England itself had been colonised – in fact it was colonised a number times by a wide ranging group of people including the Danes, the Vikings, the Saxons, and of course the Normans).
The other idea is a concept known as 'Nativism', which is something that came out of our American History lectures. That concept applied to the white population of the United States and started to develop in the mid-nineteenth century. While the traditional native Americans were being attacked, assaulted, pushed off their land, and carolled into reservations, the settlers, many who had been born in American and had come from families whose fathers went back to the early colonists, began to see themselves as being distinctly American. Since their roots had come out of the American continent, and the American culture, they were themselves becoming natives of America. As such not only were the original inhabitants being physically invaded, their culture and identity were being absorbed by the 'new natives'.
While we were not studying anthropology in English (simply because that is a completely different subject in and of itself) what we were doing was studying the literary responses to a number of these changes. In this novel we have the white man assuming the mantle of the native, and Wales assuming the mantle of the native soil. Thus it is not an adventure story about a black slave who had escaped and finally made it home, because in many cases his village, and in fact his culture, were unlikely to exist any more (as was demonstrated in the film Amistad), but rather it is about the new native returning to his home town, a town that still exists within a culture that still thrives....more