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West Chester University

Fall 2004and
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Spring 2003

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Course Information
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements
  LIT 165 Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assigmments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
  Adieu to Imaginary Worlds
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #3
  Notes on 'Before the Law'
  Samuel Beckett Links
  Notes on 'Waiting for Godot'
  Approaching 'Waiting for Godot'
  Notes on 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar
  Notes on 'EPICAC' by Kurt Vonnegut
  ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #2
  DIRECTIONS: Independent Project
  Suggested Readings: Independent Project
  Utopia/Dystopia Links
  Character Analysis: Brave New World
  Analyzing the Brave New World
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on the Brave New World
  A Critique of BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Dante Links
  Inferno: Final Destinations, Cantos XXXII-XXXIV
  Inferno: Malebolge, Cantos XVIII-XXXI
  Inferno: Questions/Analysis, Cantos XII - XVII
  Structure in the Inferno: Analysis, Cantos V - XI
  Inferno: Questions for Analysis, Cantos I - V
  Introducing Canto I
  Approaching the Divine Comedy
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Our Goals for Studying the Inferno
  Assignment Sheet: PAPER #1
  The Birthmark
  Leaf By Niggle
  Responses to Leaf By Niggle
  'On Fairy Stories' by J.R.R. Tolkien
  Notes on Ovid and 'Metamorphoses'
  Analyzing the Mythic Tales
  The Four Functions of Myth
  Myth and Metaphor
  Myth - Links
  Filtering the Introduction to 'Fantastic Worlds'
  Allegory
  'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'The Zebra Storyteller
  Introducing the 'Imaginary Worlds' Theme
  Alice In Wonderland
  The Metamorphosis

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
  Conference Schedule: 4/21 and 4/26
  Commentary: Following Up Your Response
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources
  What is Argument?
  Parts of an Argument
  Casebook Assignment Sheet
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Essay#1
  Expressive Writing
  Short Stories About Identity
  Thoughts on Stories About Identity
  Poems About Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Mind-map: Identity

ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
  ENG Q20 Syllabus
  Frederick Douglass Excerpt
  Propaganda Analysis
  How to Detect Propaganda
  George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
  Propaganda Analysis Exercise

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 

~~ One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds ~~


Bookcover: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

PRINTER FRIENDLY

We can speak of imaginary worlds as two pretty different kinds of pretending: the pretending that becomes public art (in our case, the art of literature) and the pretending that remains essentially private "daydreaming."

IMAGINARY WORLDS IN A "PRIVATE DAYDREAM"
The private daydream is a private or unconscious attempt to fulfill a private or unconscious desire. Even if it's a conscious desire, we make no demands on our daydreams. If they appear random, disordered, aimless or pointless that's okay. The "point" is private anyway. And even if there appears to be no point, that's okay. The point can remain completely unconscious or completely private and the daydream isn't any less personally meaningful or personally satisfying.

IMAGINARY WORLDS IN "PUBLIC ART"
As "public art" literature is a very conscious attempt to fulfill our deep-rooted desire for meaning by creating an orderly structure that has meaning. The roots of literature are in the mythic stories we've been telling since the dawn of language—stories that explain the meaning of the cosmos, the world, the society, and the self. Literary structure may be conventional or innovative, but either way it presents us with a structure built for meaning. the art of literature is the art of shaping experience, giving it a form designed to make an impact, to have meaning.

An interesting question: whose desire for meaning is fulfilled by the work of art, the writer's or the reader's? I would say, both. That is the beauty of art. It is satisfying not only to its creator, but to all of us.

If we say that the art of literature is the art of "shaping experience," we're saying that the imaginary worlds we enter create for us a kind of experience. I would even say, they create a refuge.

IMAGINARY WORLDS CREATE AN EXPERIENCE, A REFUGE

Whether public art or private daydream, both kinds of pretending create a special kind of experience. Stepping into an imaginary world is stepping into an experience—the experience of an "alternative reality" which in many ways is like a "refuge" from the real world.

Why do we need to experience alternative realities? Why do we need a refuge from the real world? For starters:

  • To experience a sense of wonder; to see something new and beautiful
  • To get ideas, to refresh ideas, to revisit forgotten ideas; to expand our thinking; to arrive at a new understanding; to become aware of what's true and what's false about this reality
  • To experience emotions we might not otherwise experience, visit places we might not otherwise visit
  • To lift us out of the mire of what's "impossible" and experience a fresh sense of possibility
  • To express our deepest ideals and aspirations

The reality all around us can become invisible through familiarity. We can become unconscious of it. We lose our sense of the wonder of it all. We had that sense of wonder as children, but somehow we lost it as we grew older. The imaginary world yanks us back into the position we were in when we were more naïve, before we became the know-it-alls we are as adults. It steals us temporarily away from all that humdrum familiarity, and when we return we are more aware; the blinders are off.

Just like any experience in life, literature can help us grow internally; if we're open to it there are many different ways we can grow from it. But it's not a preacher. What it has to "say" depends on the reader to a great extent. The more personally engaged you are, the more you take away from the experience literature. Some works have a profound impact, others don't. Some flavors please some people, some don't. You have to find the flavor that pleases you personally, and then literature can provide a rich, meaningful experience.

THE PURSUIT OF MEANING

The imaginary worlds we've visited in this course have been very different from one another but they've all been places that provide a unique kind of experience.

Myth. We explored several mythic stories whose sole purpose was to create meaning. The myth's purpose is to explain the cosmos and our place in it. What is the nature of this world we find ourselves in? How was it created? What's our place in it? The myth directly answers these questions.

  • Genesis. Because they acted on their free will instead of blind obedience, Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, the original paradise that was created for us and which was our first home. This world we find ourselves in is no paradise—it's more of a punishment—but it's ours. Human life is finite rather than immortal because we are not Gods; we're only in the image of God—with God's "likeness" but not God's wisdom. Whatever we want to know, we'll have to struggle for it. The meaning of life is to make the best out of this situation, since we created it ourselves, and to avoid making the same mistake again.

Inferno. From ancient times, we jump to the middle ages, just before the Renaissance, before what we might consider the modern era. The mythic stories compete with other kinds of literature. One of the great artists of this period is Dante, formerly a poet in the in the new courtly love tradition. Feeling the angst of frustration and powerlessness, fighting despair, to defend against the awful feeling that the meaning of life is slowly draining away, Dante boldly re-asserts meaning by taking the long view of human life. Beauty may perish young, and injustice may reign here for a little while, but the human soul is immortal and when you take that long view you see the real consequences in the afterlife. A fully fleshed out vision of this afterlife is completely realized in his greatest work, The Divine Comedy, where perfect justice restores meaning to all our actions by awarding them with just consequences, each of us individually. Although Dante boldly asserts meaning by making us inescapably responsible for each and every one of our actions, already we can see how meaning is contingent on faith, on revelation; it surfaces only in a vision that's a promise of consequences to come—only visionary truth can rescue meaning that's in danger of draining away. But if the vision is powerful enough, it can be done.

Brave New World. From the middle ages fly past the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and we arrive with a bump at the base of our modern era, to the time just before our own—the early 20th century—when it was becoming obvious how the industrial revolution had radically changed our lives forever. What is the meaning of human life in an age where science and technology have trumped nature, where material values supplant spiritual ones, and where people have completely rejected their freedom and individuality? Technology, materialism, and conformity all threaten to make our lives not better, not more comfortable, but meaningless. We think we're creating utopia, but we're really creating dystopia. Our "pursuit of happiness" has taken a blind turn and we're chasing it in a way that threatens to dehumanize us. We're confusing "comfort" with "happiness" and "numbness" with "pleasure." Although Huxley projects the Brave New World 600 years into the future, its roots are right here, right now. A "comfortably numb" existence, whether now or in some imagined future, is dehumanized and meaningless.

Waiting for Godot. Last but not least we confronted Samuel Beckett's tragicomic vision in Waiting for Godot, where "faith" and the pursuit of happiness are equally rejected in favor of an existentialist view of the cosmos. Faith in a "savior," a Godot, seems tragically futile in the context this play creates. However, the characters' inability to maintain even the slightest feeling of well being or "happiness" without Godot is a frequent source of comedy as well. In the battle for certainty, for absolutes, uncertainty wins in Waiting for Godot. If you want certainties, there are precious few: we exist, we suffer. In the absence of any uplifting absolutes, any firm or certain truths other than the plain fact of our suffering existence, it may seem as if Beckett's masterpiece is a dark, depressing vision of meaninglessness—the exact opposite of Dante's. But think about it another way. Real faith is never about certainty. Faith without doubt is not faith. Didi and Gogo are highly doubtful that Godot will come, but they're waiting anyway. Theirs is a tragicomic faith, but it's a faith nonetheless. Faith in what, you are probably asking. But Beckett leaves that completely up to you to decide. Faith in what? Meaning may be contingent on faith, just as in Dante, but it is not contingent on certainty, and it is not to be found in any false absolutes.

IMAGINARY WORLDS AND REALITY

We've spent a semester hopping from one alternative reality to the next. We've had to leave behind many of the familiar ground rules we ordinarily operate upon. We've had our expectations frustrated, reversed, and in some cases exploded all together. That is the nature of the fantastic, and the value of it—it offers us the unexpected, the unpredictable, the brand new.

In Kafka's "Before the Law" the doorkeeper blocks the man's way, denies him admittance to the law. Permission denied, the man from the country sits by the gate waiting to get in for his entire life. Nothing in his experience gives him any power to gain entrance. He's trapped outside. As he's about to die the doorkeeper announces that the gate, which was made for this one man alone, would be shut forever. Perhaps this absurdity, this meaninglessness, might have been avoided if there had been a sign above the gate that had motivated the man to take action: "Abandon all hope, ye who fail to enter here." A simple sign, an alternative course of action. His own experience wouldn't allow him to imagine this possibility, but if some had been there to imagine it for him—that he could rise from the stool and push his way through the gate-then perhaps he might have the found the justice he was seeking. A simple, meaningful sign might have done the trick.

 

 

 

     

 


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