Category: English Literature

Edgar Allan Poe: The Purloined Letter. 1844

This short story by Edgar Allan Poe provoked a debate between Lacan and Derrida. Jacques Lacan wrote an essay about the story, where he proposes a post-structuralist interpretation: the content of the Queen’s letter is irrelevant to the story and the proper “place” of the signifier (the letter itself) is determined by the symbolic structure in which it exists and is displaced repeatedly. Jacques Derrida responded to Lacan’s reading in “Le Facteur de la vérité” (“The Purveyor of Truth”), by pointing out what Lacan himself “missed” in his reading. Derrida argues that the letter does not lack meaning, as Lacan...

Oscar Wilde: De Profundis. 1897

“De Profundis” is a letter written by Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) in 1897, during his two-year imprisonment for the crime of “gross indecency with other men.” He had been in an intimate relationship with a young aristocratic man, whose father decided to accuse  Oscar Wilde of sodomy. Wilde lost the ensuing lawsuit for libel and was subsequently arrested and tried for indecent sexual acts, based on testimony from several young male prostitutes. Here are some excerpts from the text:  . . . Suffering is one very long moment.  We cannot divide it by seasons.  We can only record its moods, and...

W. H. Auden: The Shield of Achilles. 1952

Introduction to the poem from the Wikipedia: “Auden’s poem is written in two different stanza forms, one form with shorter lines, the other with longer lines. The stanzas with shorter lines describe the making of the shield by the god Hephaestus, and report the scenes that Achilles’ mother, the Nereid Thetis, expects to find on the shield and which Hephaestus, in Auden’s version, does not make. Thetis expects to find scenes of happiness and peace like those described by Homer. The stanzas with longer lines describe the scenes of a barren and impersonal modern world that Hephaestus creates in Auden’s version. In the...

Kurt Vonnegut: EPICAC. 1950

Hell, it’s about time someone told about my friend EPICAC. After all, he cost the taxpayers $776,434,927.54. They have a right to know about him, picking up a check like that. EPICAC got a big send off in the papers when Dr. Ormand von Kleigstadt designed him for the Government people. Since then, there hasn’t been a peep about him — not a peep. It isn’t any military secret about what happened to EPICAC, although the Brass has been acting as though it were. The story is embarrassing, that’s all. After all that money, EPICAC didn’t work out the way...

W. H. Auden: September 1, 1939

This poem by W. H. Auden (1907-1973), marks the beginning of World War II, which started with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. He is an analyst of the times, and his deep insights are as true today as they were in September 1939: Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return… The enlightenment driven away, the habit-forming pain, mismanagement, and grief…. For the error bred in the bone of each woman and each man, craves what it cannot have, not universal love, but to be loved alone…..All I have is a voice, to undo the folded...

E.M. Forster: The Machine Stops. 1909

It is amazing that somebody in 1909 could predict our Internet age with such accuracy. This short story by E.M. Forster is a chilling account of the role of technology in our lives. Written in 1909, it’s as relevant today as the day it was published. Forster had several visions of the future that materialized just as he predicted: instant messaging, video chats (cinematophoes), international travel, separation from nature, and reliance on technology. His vision, however, is dystopian. Here are some quotes, and then the short story. “Night and day, wind and storm, tide and earthquake, impeded man no longer....

Beckett: What is the Word. 1989  

folly – folly for to – for to – what is the word – folly from this – all this – folly from all this – given – folly given all this – seeing – folly seeing all this – this – what is the word – this this – this this here – all this this here – folly given all this – seeing – folly seeing all this this here – for to – what is the word – see – glimpse – seem to glimpse – need to seem to glimpse – folly for to need to...

Ann Sexton – More Poems

Her poems are like music, and her confessional style is at times breath-taking. No matter how many poems she writes, the emotional pain never goes away.   Her Kind I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. I have found the warm caves in the woods, filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves, closets, silks, innumerable goods; fixed the suppers for...

The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).  The Waste Land.  1922. I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering          5 Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers. Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade, And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,   10 And drank coffee, and talked for an hour. Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch. And when we were children, staying at the...

James Joyce: Ulysses

We all have internal monologues, but it is exceedingly hard to capture the flow of consciousness in words. James Joyce came as close as one can get, and here is the famous example of Molly’s soliloquy. Introduction The last 50 pages of Ulysses (1922) are some of the most extraordinary  prose in the English language. They are written with no punctuation as the swirling thoughts of Molly Bloom before she falls asleep. She is lying beside her husband Leopold in bed (they sleep head to foot) and thinking about her day and their life together. Most of Ulysses has been...

1984

Orwell’s 1984 is as relevant today as it was at the time of it’s creation. It’s interesting that dystopian Science Fiction seems to work better than all philosophical or scientific warnings about the future. 1984 is one of the most influential novels ever written; it had a profound effect on the world. Since its publication in 1949 many of its concepts have entered into mainstream language. Expressions like Big Brother, doublethink, thought-crime, Newspeak and Room 101 are all derived from Orwell. What’s more, as a result of the book, Orwellian is now a term to describes official deception, secret surveillance,...

Samuel Beckett

Beckett’s Life. (Quoted from the Samuel Beckett Website) • Born Samuel Barclay Beckett, at Cooldrinagh house, in Foxrock, County Dublin, Ireland on 13 April, 1906, the second of two sons. Parents are middle-class Protestants. • On Monday, April 24th, 1916, the Easter Uprising breaks out in Dublin, but the conflicts take place for the most part within the city proper, and so Beckett remains somewhat removed from the unrest. At one point his father takes him to a hill near their home at night to watch the fires in the city. Beckett enters Portora Royal School (where Oscar Wilde also...

Finnegan’s Wake

You can read the full online text here.  There are  also recordings of Joyce’s reading of the text. Text Pieces: page 258 – 259, end of Part 2: “Loud, hear us! Loud, graciously hear us! Now have thy children entered into their habitations. And nationglad, camp meeting over, to shin it, Gov be thanked! Thou hast closed the portals of the habitations of thy children and thou hast set thy guards thereby, even Garda Didymus and Garda Domas, that thy children may read in the book of the opening of the mind to light and err not in the darkness...

James Joyce

James (Augustine Aloysius) Joyce (1882 – 1941)  is famous for Ulysses, and for Finnegan’s Wake, which is a unique piece of literature. There are probably very few people who read Finnegan’s Wake from the beginning to end, because it is almost unreadable, but nevertheless, once you read a little bit, you always want to come back for more. Finnegan’s Wake is a reading experience like no other. Biography (Quoted from: Reader’s Companion to Twentieth Century Writers, Ed. Peter Parker) James (Augustine Aloysius) Joyce (1882 – 1941) Joyce was born in Dublin, where his father was a rates collector. He was...

The Education of Henry Adams

A solitary man of sixty-five years or more, alone in a Gothic cathedral or a Paris apartment, need fret himself little about a few illusions more or less. He should have learned his lesson fifty years earlier, the times had long passed when a student could stop before chaos or order, he had no choice but to march with his world.
Nevertheless, he could not pretend that his mind felt flattered by this scientific outlook.

George Orwell: A Hanging

Essay It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the...

George Orwell: Politics and the English Language.

“Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.”

T.S.Eliot

Thou hast nor youth nor age But as it were an after dinner sleep. Dreaming of both. Biography (Quoted from the official Nobel Prize Website) Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, of an old New England family. He was educated at Harvard and did graduate work in philosophy at the Sorbonne, Harvard, and Merton College, Oxford. He settled in England, where he was for a time a schoolmaster and a bank clerk, and eventually literary editor for the publishing house Faber & Faber, of which he later became a director. He founded and, during the seventeen...

Samuel Beckett – Texts for Nothing, #4

Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this, saying it’s me? Answer simply, someone answer simply. It’s the same old stranger as ever, for whom alone accusative I exist, in the pit of my inexistence, of his, of ours, there’s a simple answer. It’s not with thinking he’ll find me, but what is he to do, living and bewildered, yes, living, say what he may. Forget me, know me not, yes, that would be the wisest, none better able than...

Ann Sexton – Biography

Ann Sexton is a tragic writer; she struggled throughout her life with depression. She is a “confessional poet” who writes about her experiences of emotional pain, and as a woman, living in a male-dominated society.  She lived from 1928 to 1974. Here is her biography from Poets.org: “Anne Gray Harvey was born in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1928. She attended Garland Junior College for one year and married Alfred Muller Sexton II at age nineteen. She enrolled in a modeling course at the Hart Agency and lived in San Francisco and Baltimore. In 1953 she gave birth to a daughter. In...