Thursday, April 24, 2008

The relationship between Catholicism and the Centaurs

When reading the book “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman” by Angela Carter, I found myself trying to figure and analyze the books meaning. The passage and chapter that I really experienced this thought process was the chapter about the centaur people and their religious beliefs. During our previous class we discussed the link between the centaur’s and the Houyhnhms. By looking further into the chapter I discovered that Carter also intertwined a religious connection to the centaurs. The centaurs were extremely religious creatures, which resembled the Catholic religion almost exactly. Both of the religions are monotheist, they both revolve around the written word, they both are built upon the hierarchy of individual males, and they both are very heavily influenced by nature and the world around them. In the book, the centaurs worship the Sacred Stallion, very similar to the way the Catholics worship the one single God figure. In Catholicism, everything that is presented for the religion is written within one sacred text, which is the bible. The centaur’s have many sacred texts that they follow and add to, much like the bible. In the centaurs religion we are shown, the male hierarchy within the church. The centaurs have the Scrivener, the Smith, the Cantor, and the Tattoo master. Carter even goes as far as describing them as cardinals, exactly like the Catholic Church. Throughout my reading of this section, I kept on finding myself trying to determine why she would include such a vivid allusion to the Catholic Church. Through my interpretation, Carter isn’t trying to make a statement about the Catholic Church. I felt that Carter was trying to show how a religion can over take a human being or a civilization. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not always good either. By connecting the centaur people with a religion very similar to Catholicism, she created a connection between the reader and the centaur characters in the book, because almost everyone has heard about and experienced some interaction with the Catholic Church. Her focus on religion in a way humanized the god like centaurs. It made them real and more believable to the average reader.

Modernism in The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman

Angela Carters novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman is has both post modernism and modernism structure. I believe it is predominantly a modernism critique. Modernism is the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression that distinguish many styles in the arts and literature of the 20th century, such and The Infernal Desire Machines. I believe this writing is innovative, and a departure from tradition. This book is wild in the sense of almost every theme, and chapter. Modernist themes are hierarchical, structured and ordered. In this quote Desiderio shows how it is environment is ordered which would make the structure ordered; “ However, the transmitters sent out their beams high over its battlements and did not affect the fortress of the enemy itself. Here everything was safe. Everything was ordered. Everything was secure.” (pg.197) I believe this book is more modern than post-modern, but share similar qualities.


When looking at postmodernism one thing stood out in my mind, that was Dali's work "clocks".
In this we can see many huge clocks dripping almost like they are melting. What I take from that firstly  is that: we can see the main aspect of the painting, obviously the clocks but we can also see the postmodernist theme, the dripping, melting clocks that stand out to the viewer.
This reminds me very much of Angela Carters Dr. Hoffman. We have the characters that show many instances of what we would call "real life" but there is also that postmodernist theme throughout. 
So my argument would be that Carter's work, similar to Dali's postmodernist piece is a clear postmodernist text. As there is both the reality side to the story and the unclear, unexplainable, postmodernist view to her text. Much like Dali's melting clocks. 

Modernism Desire

I was almost convinced by the guys who were in the middle, however I still believe that the book is ultimately modernism. To me, the postmodernism group was a little confusing. I couldn't quite grasp their over all idea so I will describe it how I view the story. On page 22 the minister states, "The Doctor has invented a virus...we will!- discover the antidote." This supports modernism because they are searching for the solution to the problem. That solution is innovation. There are many examples such as this in the book which I think represent the entire story. Desiderio leaves the sort of tradition of Dr. Hoffman's world by defeating the Doctor and restoring order to the city. There is innovation in the sense that the city is changed from bad back to good.

Angela Carter Debate: Modernism vs. Postmodernism

Let me preface this blog post by saying that I agree with Professor Brewer: While it is difficult to classify books as completely modernist, postmodernist, etc., The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman seems largely postmodernist. With that out of the way, the following would be my argument, from the postmodernist side of the debate.

As we know from class, modernism subscribes to the concept of hierarchy, which connotes order/structure. Thus, it seems modernism can only exist by itself; otherwise, it loses its essential modernist structure and ceases to be modernist, by virtue of its having non-modernist qualities. Postmodernism, on the other hand, subscribes to anarchy, which is the lack of a central authority. Thus, because Carter's book has both modernist and postmodernist qualities, it is automatically postmodern; it has no central authority, meaning that the book exhibits anarchy and, thus, postmodernist qualities. We all agreed on this today: The book has both modernist and postmodernist qualities. So, why is there still a question? How could it be modernist alone? Moreover, we might even question whether or not modernism exists, for how can a text "embody" (rigid/structured/hierarchical) modernism—as we so eloquently put it during the debate—if it also has postmodernist qualities? (Someone said that all books have both modernist and postmodernist qualities, and if all books do this, technically, they are postmodernist).

One can argue that, because Carter's book also features hierarchy/order, it cannot be postmodernist. However, it is still postmodernist because such hierarchy is non-hierarchical; it is unpredictable, unordered, because of the surrounding postmodernist qualities. That the Minister believes "a societal structure is the greatest of all the works of art," that he endorses hierarchy, only clashes with Dr. Hoffman's desire (and eventual ability) to rip the world from reality/structure/hierarchy (35). A better example would be to think of the point that the modernist side brought up (I think Tim and someone else mentioned it): the linear structure of the story. This argument does not seem to hold, because it is, in fact, too logical for postmodernism. Yes, there is order to the chapters and the events, and Desiderio even says early in the book that he "must gather together all that confusion of experience and arrange it in order, just as it happened, beginning at the beginning [...] [he] must unravel [his] life as if it were so much knitting," meaning that he arranges the story linearly (11). However, the key words are "as it happened" and "knitting." We, the readers, (probably) go through the story in a linear fashion; however, we do not know that this is the way Desiderio experienced the events. Like he says, he has to unravel his memories like "knitting," which suggests that they are all jumbled together. The Desiderio that is "writing"/narrating the story exists in the post-machine world, the one with order/reality; thus, he, of course, rearranges the story from its original form as an unordered mess of "knitting," deciding to tell it in a linear fashion so it will make sense to the reader. Thus, the story is a (crazy, wild, anarchical) postmodernist one, told in a modernist (structured) fashion, using both modernist and postmodernist qualities/themes/etc. So, how can it be purely modernist?

(It can't; and I've already established that postmodernism can exist alongside modernism because of its idea of anarchy. Be that as it may, as I said in the beginning, I also do not think the story can necessarily be only postmodernist. The qualities can and often do mix together, creating very interesting, complex works of art such as Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. On a final note, such works may even be intended to create debates like ours, to get us all to realize that rigidity/structure (in defining works) is not conducive to literature. Hey, wait! That takes me back to my point that modernism may not even exist!)

Religious Criticism in Infernal Desires

The question arose in class the other day as to whether or not Angela Carter was criticizing religion in the chapter entitled Lost in Nebulus Time. My first reaction to this chapter and the centaurs actions was the belief that she was criticizing the pointlessness of religion. On page 183 we are given a description of their religious lives. Desiderio describes the "whole point of their activity" as "endless," suggesting no progress is ever made toward achieving...well what they are trying to achieve isn't exactly clear, possibly simply appeasing the Sacred Stallion. He also admonishes their horse tree on the Holy Hill as "no more than a kind of anthropoid vegetable clock." If we can take Desiderio's words to be also Carter's then it appears she is callous towards this religion, its inability to achieve anything production, and its false idols. Yet, a further reading suggested otherwise to me. I believe she is simply comparing religion to history in this passage, which at some level all religion is a history. Desiderio points out that they create and adapt their religion to fit the situations around them, thereby shaping not only their religion, but shaping their history. From this viewpoint Carter is linking religion and history together in that they both describe the past, sometimes with more or less truths or more or less mysticisms, but always at least presenting the past.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Count Looks Inward, as do we all.

At the tragedy of the thousands of deaths of the city on the mountain, the only response that the Count could offer was a solitary cuff on Lafleur’s fragile body and a glorification of the ‘spectacle’ as being nature’s coup de theatre.
Although most humans do have some sense of compassion, (as exhibited by their natural inclination to never relate a disaster as a mere spectacle), the Count is indeed present in all of us.
He is, in Desiderio’s words, a passionate convictor that “he was the only person in the world.” Therefore, the Count is, as I will go to postulate, “raw vanity, with all of its splendor.”
If it were possible to, we would, as a result of our own greed and self-love, deny the reality of others, and enter our own world… In shaking off other’s desires, and only adhering to our own, we would heighten our own adventure.
But, by closing off other avenues, we would adhere to the reality of our own. Our self-confidence, in that manner, would be a good thing, one which could throw off the yoke of the Desire Machine and Mr. Hoffman. Perhaps that is why, as Albertina would later state, the Count was a danger to Dr. Hoffman: His character was inherently aversive to the puppet show of non-reason that Dr. Hoffman played.
When he is asked, Is there anything in the world that you [do condemn], the Count is put into the position commonly deemed “between a rock and a hard place.”
This pause is put on by Carter to emphasize his response: He disdains the “death-defying” “double somersault” of love.
Love is, in some degree, the ultimate connection of two beings. In that it acts as a unifier, it would thoroughly disgust the Count. He would have reason to be disgusted by the antithesis of his world: Two is a private invasion of oneness.
I imagine the Count to be a closed box. All the sides inside the box reflect on themselves. In that they are perfect in their looking inward, they have nothing to fear, nothing to tremble from, nothing to react from… besides themeselves. That perfect confidence and swagger (in all their glory) is why admirers can view the Count in anything he does, and intermittently be smitten upon his conviction.
We all want that. We all want to not be affected by a world which “threatens our existence.”